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The gender pay gap in the legal profession

BySteve Stones

Oct 5, 2018

Earlier this year, a government-issued deadline was announced that brought the issue of equal pay to the forefront of our attention. Any company which has over 250 employees had to publish data that showed any difference regarding gender pay in their company.

The Law Society Gazette states that law firms were among those to first release this data. Are law firms struggling with the gender pay gap as much as other sectors? We look into the matter alongside True Solicitors, who deal with work accident claims.

Pay gap deadline

The deadline set by the government for firms submit their pay gap data was 4th April 2018. The results can be accessed here. Though it came as no surprise that the pay gap was still prevalent, the sheer scale of difference between men and women’s pay across businesses was quite alarming. The Independent reported on Ryanair’s revelation that women are paid 67% less in their company for example.

The pay gap in law

While law firms’ data didn’t appear as bad in comparison, it still recognised that work needed to be done. A law firm in South Yorkshire reported that the women in their workplace earned a 15.9% less median hourly rate compared to their male counterparts. However, a London-based law firm saw their women’s median hourly rate at 37.4% lower than men’s.

In 2018, the Law Society conducted the largest international survey of women in law in which 7,781 people took part. The study found that while 60% were aware of a pay gap problem in their workplace, only 16% reported seeing anything being actively done about it. 74% of men said there was progress regarding the difference in pay between the genders, but only 48% of women agreed with that statement.

The cause: wage, bonuses, or role?

When looking at the same data as above, the firm discovered that, on average, a woman’s bonus pay was 20% lower than men. The London-based firm noted a 40% lower median bonus pay for women compared to men. It clear that bonuses are also suffering from the same gender discrimination as standard wages.

Looking at job roles, The Law Society’s survey found that almost half (49%) of law workers believe that you must have an unacceptable work/life balance if you want to reach a senior role. It’s this that is said to be to blame for the gender pay gap, so it is feasible that starting a family is deemed a disadvantage for women.

The Balance Careers believed that there is a huge difference in perception. If a man starts a family, it is a note in his favour, showing stability and reliability. But for a woman, having children brings an unfair stigma of unreliability, that they may put their family first. This can cause discrimination when aiming for higher roles within the firm, such as partner positions.

Issues in pay for higher roles within law

For women who achieve the status of partner, it’s still an issue that the pay gap does not close any further for them. In fact, according to The Financial Times, female partners in London-based law firms earn on average 24% less compensation than men. 34% of women earn less than £250,000, where 15% of men earn less than £250,000.

How law firms can close the pay gap

The BBC offered a range of possible ways how businesses in general can to close the gender pay gap. These suggestions include:

  • Better, balanced paternity leave — allowing fathers to take paternity leave, or having a shared parental leave, would allow mothers to return to work earlier.
  • Childcare support — childcare is expensive! Support for childcare expenses would help both men and women in the workplace.
  • Allowing parents to work from home — the ability to work from home while raising a family would open up additional opportunities for women to balance both a career and a family.
  • A pay raise for female workers — a simple solution, but a pay raise for women can quickly equalise the pay rate between men and women.