The waiting game – is the face of the legal profession really changing?
Sarah Deacon, area manager and segment lead lawyers, at Wesleyan Financial Services rounds up the main talking points from their panel sessions, in collaboration with the Law Society, that addressed the main challenges women lawyers continue to face and the barriers in career progression.
The Law Society’s annual statistics report 2018: ‘Trends in the solicitors’ profession’, highlighted that women make up almost two-thirds of new traineeships in private practice firms, yet only 30% of partners within private practice are female.
With statistics like this, it’s little wonder that conversations about diversity remain a delicate topic within the legal sector.
To support International Women’s Day 2020, in collaboration with the Law Society, Wesleyan hosted panel debates across the country discussing the barriers faced by women in law.
After the UK lockdown, additional online panels were staged with leading lawyers, barristers and legal professionals from a variety of firms who joined from home.
The overwhelming consensus of attendees was that while significant strides have been made, there is still some way to go before true gender equality or conscious inclusion is achieved in law firms, especially at partner and C-suite level.
Four key challenges emerged from the discussions:
- the gender pay gap within the legal profession
- unconscious bias stopping women from achieving their career aspirations
- the impact of career breaks
Mind the gap
There was a firm belief that work and progression opportunities are allocated differently for men and women within law firms. The statistics for women in England and Wales are clear: women have entered the profession at a higher rate than men for 25 years, women make up over half of practising solicitors – and yet women remain underrepresented in leadership positions. One attendee suggested:
“Women are more likely to be in ‘face-friendly’ areas of law whereas men tend to be in the commercial and the business side where the most money is generated. Firms’ profits are therefore mainly being generated by men.”
Research conducted by the Office for National Statistics in October 2019 shows that 49% of all full-time solicitors are female – yet the average female lawyer earns 17.4% less than her male counterpart. Aside from a lesser amount of disposable income, the implications of the pay gap on longer-term finances can be significant. Pension contributions and the ability to protect income can all be affected by lower salaries.
Social stereotypes remain
It was felt that inbuilt unconscious biases remain in the legal sector in the same way they exist in most other workplaces, which significantly hinder career progression.
Unconscious bias links all the underlying challenges confronting female lawyers. Most agreed that outdated attitudes still exist in the profession.
Some of the attendees felt negative perceptions had been formed towards those women who failed to gain ‘traditional’ A-level qualifications such as English, History and Politics before studying law, or who hadn’t acquired formal work experience in pro bono work or mini-pupillages shadowing a barrister.
Attending a non-red brick university and training at a smaller firm outside of the Magic Circle and Legal 500 rankings also casts negative assumptions that you have earned less and have had limited opportunities to build your network. Together, these ingrained perceptions add up to permanently affect the careers of lawyers and segregate the market.
Read the full article here: www.lawsociety.org.uk