Women in law sceptical they will see equality of pay

Women in law sceptical they will see equality of pay

New research into the gender pay gap in the legal profession has found 84 per cent of women in law believe they won’t see true gender pay equality in their working life, while 29 per cent said it won’t happen in the next 100 years.

Over half (54 per cent) of female legal professionals believe that it will be the next generation of workers who will see true pay equality.

The research, from Next 100 Years and Gapsquare, part of XpertHR, analyses gender pay gap reports filed with the UK government, shows that we are still 86 years away from pay equity between women and men in the legal sector. The findings are the result of a mixed approach based on analysing public data submitted by law firms, running an original survey of over 250 professionals as well as reviewing published research into the data by organisations such as the Law Society and the Bar Standards Board.

The future of the industry is put under further pressure with the report finding a strong lack of faith in firm leadership to resolve this issue. While 92 per cent of legal professionals surveyed agree that the gender pay gap is a concern for them, 62 per cent said that fixing the gender pay gap is not a priority for senior management in their firm.

All junior female lawyers surveyed (at associate, trainee, or pupil level) agree that the gender pay gap is a concern for them but trainees/pupils are the only job role surveyed in which none believed that true pay equality will be achieved within their career.

Gapsquare’s analysis of the hourly pay rates provided by law firms under the statutory gender pay reporting guidelines for 2022 show a median gender pay gap of 25.4 per cent – a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 2017, when mandatory reporting first came into effect. If this trend continues, the gender pay gap in the legal profession will never close.

Bonus payments are also a source of inequality at many employers. More than a quarter (25.4 per cent) of respondents either ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ that the distribution of bonuses between men and women in their organisation is fair.

The research echoes the findings of the Law Society of England and Wales that show, on average, women in the largest law firms earn a fifth less than men, and the gender pay gap in law firms is 50 per cent wider than the average UK business. With such large gaps to overcome, it is little surprise that respondents aren’t optimistic about seeing this gap close within their lifetime, or even within the next century.

Despite women making up over 60 per cent of new entrants to the solicitor profession since 1992 and representing over half of all solicitors since 2017, a relatively small proportion are reaching senior roles. In 2019, 31 per cent of partners were women, 69 per cent were men.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of Next 100 Years, said: “The lack of faith in law firm leadership’s willingness to tackle the gender pay gap is not only alarming for the immediate and future careers of women in the industry, but also for the future of the industry itself. With inclusivity playing an increasingly large role in employee retention, such sentiments, particularly amongst the younger generation, have the potential to impact future employee turnover in the legal sector.

“We need an end to excuses and a focused effort on closing this huge pay discrepancy between men and women. Leaders must assess their pay structures to ensure there is equal pay for equal work. There should also be a level of transparency around pay, not only to mitigate the increasingly worrying outlook and lack of progress in the legal sector, but to also ensure that women are confident they are being paid at the right level, especially as they climb the ladder.”

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