Last month, figures published by the BBC revealed an embarrassing disparity between the salaries of its male and female employees. As a corporation whose motto is to educate, inform and entertain, it’s difficult to see the entertainment in these figures: in fact, since publishing this data, the BBC have faced a barrage of criticism from the public and threats of legal action from employees for blatant discrimination - and rightly so.
In 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to tackle the gender pay gap in the UK, with the aim to close it completely within a generation. However, according to research by Deloitte, it may now take until 2069 until economic equality is achieved across all industries.
Still - when it comes to gender equality, you would hope that the BBC would lead by example, being the largest broadcaster in the world. Unfortunately, this is just not the case. While top male earner Chris Evans pockets a grand total of 2.2m a year, their highest paid female employee - Claudia Winkleman - only receives £575,000.
What is the gender wage gap?
The gender wage gap is defined as “the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings.” The current UK gender pay gap is 18.1% for all employees and 9.4% when looking at full-time workers alone.
In December 2016, the ONS published an interactive tool that presents the gender pay gap throughout a wide range of industries and job roles. Like many other sectors in the UK, the legal profession did not fare so well, with female employees paid 10.3% less than their male counterparts.
Does the pay gap exist in the legal profession?
Despite the same research showing that 53% of legal professionals today are female, it seems the profession still has a long way to go. Sure: this has certainly improved over the last century, but then again, it was only in 1922 that women were admitted to the profession. Even then, law firms and chambers commonly used the excuse of ‘not having female toilet facilities’ as a reason not to employ women.
It took all the way until 1981 for the first woman to become a top partner at a law firm and even today, women are under-represented in senior roles. While 10.3% may be lower than the national average, it doesn’t look good for a profession that has already faced criticism for being “behind the times”. As a profession responsible for enforcing laws regarding gender equality, this statistic does not bode well.
A study published by The Law Society in September last year provided a closer look at the average earnings within the profession, comparing salaries at differing levels of seniority. The findings revealed the typical earnings for a male associate was £47,000 in 2015. By comparison, a female associate earned 11% less on average; with their typical take home sitting at £42,000. The study went on to show how a male solicitor earned an average of £70,000 - a whole 19% more than female solicitors who earned approximately £57,000 on average. This trend continues through to senior positions: between male and female equity partners in the average law firm, there was a 20% disparity in earnings.
How did we get here?
The underlying causes of the pay gap in the legal profession are many; but one of the major contributing factors is the lack of women admitted into senior positions. While there are more women working in the legal profession than ever before, they represent a meagre 25% of partners in leading law firms across the UK and just under 19% in Magic Circle firms. This mirrors the findings of the ONS which revealed there were far greater women working in lower paid roles on a whole in the UK.
So, why aren’t female lawyers able to advance their careers at the same pace as men? What is causing this underrepresentation within senior roles? According to Baroness Hale (the only female Justice of the Supreme Court), talented women are being sidelined due to a culture of “unconscious sexism” in the profession.
She isn’t alone in this belief, and though a large volume of women have come forward to report their experiences of institutionalised sexism in the legal profession, evidence suggests that many women are afraid of speaking up in fear that it could affect their prospects of promotion. Baroness Hale further stated her opinion that interviewers are more at ease employing men into senior positions, a view echoed by Lady Justice Hallett who stated that law firms “recruit and advance people in their own image”.
Challenging the status quo
The archaic structure that traditional firms have clung to for decades is finally beginning to prove inefficient and outdated; not only due to the cost, but the culture. While certain law firms are starting to look at this issue head-on, gender inequality is still rife in the profession, and efforts must be made not only to close the gender pay gap but to eradicate sexism at every level: from gender bias in the recruitment phase to derogatory comments in the workplace.
At 360 Business Law, we do things differently. Our business model isn’t based on a hierarchical structure: instead of partners, we simply have a global team of specialist freelance consultant lawyers. We recruit these lawyers based on their skills, knowledge, experience and passion in their chosen field of expertise.
In our world, there’s no such thing as ‘lower paid roles’. Rather than hiring staff to perform secretarial tasks, our lawyers manage the entire workload. Their task is facilitated by state of the art technology that is provided to undertake administrative duties, allowing our experts to focus on delivering a high quality legal service to our clients.
It’s time for a change. Are you on board? Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help your business. Either write to us through our simple enquiry form or call us on 01276 804432.