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Addressing the gender pay gap in the law sector

In an effort to address the gender pay gap, the UK government issued a deadline for firms with more than 250 employees to publish their pay gap data. With the deadline now passed, the results have proven quite shocking - according to BBC reports, pay gaps of more than 40% were frequently seen in some sectors, and 78% of companies showed pay gaps against women.

How did law firms measure up? Along with work accident solicitor firm True Solicitors, we take a look at the pay gap data submitted by law firms, as well as what can be done to address the pay gap issue.


Deadline for data submission

Currently, firms with more than 250 employees were required to submit their pay gap data by 4th April 2018, (though, there are talks about smaller firms being required to follow suit). 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 difference in pay within law

Although law firms' data wasn't as bad, the figures showed that improvements are still needed. 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.

The Law Society fielded the largest international survey of women in law in 2018, asking 7,781 participants a variety of questions regarding unconscious bias in the profession. 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 causing this pay gap?

Is it a singular cause behind the pay gap, or multiple factors at play? Is it a difference in bonuses, or are higher job positions less readily available for women?

The South Yorkshire law firm previously discussed reported that their women's median bonus pay was lower than then men's, by 20%. 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. 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.

This difference of view between men and women wanting to start a family has been explored by The Balance Careers, who explained that men starting a family are deemed to be reliable and stable. 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.


Higher role in law: a prevailing pay gap?

It seems the pay gap does not lessen even for women who do manage to achieve partner status. 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.


Closing the gap 

The BBC noted ways in which firms can start to address the problem. 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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