Equality in the solicitor profession is moving closer
The Law Society of England and Wales currently estimates that more than a third of law firms in England and Wales are majority-owned by women.
Speaking on International Women’s Day (8.3.18) president Robert Bourns said:
The proportion of law firms majority-owned by women far outstrips the national estimate of women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs), reflecting the changing culture in the legal sector.
As the professional body for solicitors, we see real power in diversity and support progress for the best, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, so our profession reflects the population it serves.
We also know that businesses benefit from strong diversity and inclusion policies and practices that help attract both clients and the best talent.
An estimated 34% of the 9,403 law firms in England and Wales in 2015 were majority-owned by women, compared to a national estimate of women-owned SMEs of 21%
For the past 20 years, women have accounted for more than half of new entrants to the profession (61.1% in 2015), so the proportion of Practising Certificate (PC) holders who are female is set to increase for the foreseeable future
Moreover, women graduated with more first and upper second law degrees (71.1% ) than men (65.2%)
Despite the steady increase in the number of female entrants to the profession, however, they account for only 28.8% of partners. A recent survey undertaken ahead of a wider programme of work during Christina Blacklaws’ presidency of the Law Society in 2018-19 seeks to understand progress, barriers and support remedies.
Unconscious bias in the legal profession is the most commonly identified barrier to career progression for women, while flexible working is seen as a remedy by an overwhelming 91% of respondents to our survey.
Interestingly, while half of all respondents said they thought there had been progress on gender equality over the last five years, there was a significant difference in perception by gender with 74% of men reporting progress in gender equality compared to only 48% of women.
Key findings from the survey
- 7,781 people responded to the Law Society’s Women in the Law survey (5,758 women, 554 men and 1,469 unknown or other)
- 74% of men and 48% of women reported progress on gender equality in the last 5 years (overall 50%)
- Main barriers to career progression perceived as:
– Unconscious bias (52%); however, only 11% said unconscious bias training is consistently carried out in their organisation
– Unacceptable work/life balance demanded to reach senior levels (49%)
– Traditional networks/routes to promotion are male orientated (46%)
– Current resistance to flexible working practices (41%)
- 91% of respondents said flexible working is critical to improving diversity
- 52% work in an organisation where flexible working is in place
- 60% are aware of gender pay gap in their place of work
- Only 16% see visible steps taken to address gender pay gap