How the gender pay gap is crippling the legal sector

A government-issued deadline earlier this year saw the matter of the gender pay gap finally being addressed in a more proactive way. Firms with more than 250 employees were required to submit and reveal their gender pay difference data by 4th April 2018.

The Law Society Gazette announced that some of the first firms to comply were law firms. The data submitted was quickly picked up on for comparison and analysis between sectors. How did law firms measure up compared to other industries? True Solicitors, a law firm with expertise in work accident claims handling, investigates…

The result

The data was submitted to a government database. 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 law sector’s pay gap

The gender pay gap was indeed present in the initial data submitted by law firms, though to a seemingly lesser extent. 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.

How do the workers themselves feel about it? The Law Society conducted the largest international survey of women in law in 2018, with 7,781 participants. 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.

What is the primary cause?

To find out what is causing the gender pay gap, we need to look at the roles themselves. Is it a difference in bonuses, or are higher job positions less readily available for women? Looking at the same data previously referred to, the South Yorkshire law firm reported that women’s median bonus pay was 20% lower than men’s. 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.

Moving on from bonuses, how do job roles impact the pay gap? In terms of job roles, The Law Society’s survey showed 49% of law workers believe that an unacceptable work/life balance is needed to reach senior roles and is to blame for the gender pay gap, so it is feasible that starting a family is deemed a disadvantage for women. The Balance Careers notes the difference in perception too — 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.

Of partner status

Though it is rare for women to have the opportunity to achieve partner status, for those that do, the pay gap remains. 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.

The first steps

How should businesses look to start resolving the problem? The BBC offered a variety of suggestions for businesses in general in order 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.

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