Guest Post from The Legal Director
Women are woefully under-represented in senior legal positions. A recent report published by the Financial Times revealed that, despite there being more women than men practising law in the UK, men are still four times more likely to make it to partner level. Indeed, the data shows the numbers of women dropping off steadily with each rung of the corporate ladder.
The issue is compounded by the disparity in pay. The Law Society’s analysis of gender pay gap reports, revealed that women in the largest law firms earn, on average, 20% less than their male counterparts. And this is if you are comparing mean hourly pay. If you’re looking at the average gap for median hourly pay, this rises to a massive 32%!
And before we dismiss this as a general societal problem, it is worth noting that this gender pay gap is 50% wider than for businesses nationally.
So, what makes the legal industry so particularly bad for gender equality?
A major part of the problem lies with the traditional structure of law firms and the conventional path to partnership. The expectation of always being available, of billing around 2,000 chargeable hours a year, as well as committing to the firm’s business development efforts is simply not compatible when you have competing childcare or other family responsibilities.
And, unfortunately, the majority of this work is still shouldered by women. In fact, the lockdowns and home working only increased the time women spent on unpaid work. If you’re interested in the statistics, the UK Data Service has compiled some fascinating if worrying datasets for this year’s International Women’s Day #BreakTheBias.
TLD directors, Kirstie Penk and James Mallender discussed this very issue recently in conversation with recruitment entrepreneur, Elizabeth Willets of Investing in Women: Is the Legal Sector Dominated by Men? Kirstie highlighted one of the difficulties with breaking the cycle and driving change. With few women in senior positions, and fewer still with families or any semblance of a work/life balance, many women do not see partnership as a viable option for them. Consequently, fewer women than men put themselves up for partnership, fewer women become partners, and there are fewer female partners as examples or role models for younger female lawyers. And so the pattern continues.
There is no one solution to this problem but there are signs that may offer hope for the future.
One lasting effect of the pandemic has been the success of hybrid working which has revolutionised the way we work and changed views of where, when and how office work needs to be undertaken. It will be interesting to see if this levels the playing field for women in the longer term.
Increasing focus on the issue may also prove beneficial for women. Many law firms are aware of the problem and bringing in measures to address gender inequalities, such as shared parental leave, and targets/quotas for partnership candidates.
There is also increasing diversification in how legal services are offered and it is perhaps law firms that totally reimagine how to offer legal support that will be most attractive to senior female lawyers. This is precisely the reason why Kirstie joined, and then invested in, The Legal Director – a fully regulated law firm that provides businesses with high-calibre, experienced lawyers on a part-time or flexible basis. Pitched predominantly at those businesses that don’t have a full-time in-house lawyer, TLD’s service model gives smaller businesses the benefit of senior lawyers and senior lawyers the benefit of controlling the amount of work they do without dropping in seniority. Kirstie says, “We buck the trend at TLD. Our top earners are women, and the majority are balancing their work with family commitments or other interests. That gives me enormous satisfaction to see.”
If you’re a senior lawyer, interested in a different way of working, you can contact our Recruitment Manager, Georgina Rylance on 07305 902876 or email her on email@example.com