Law Society conducts largest ever survey on gender equality in legal profession

updated on 12 March 2018

To mark International Women’s’ Day 2018, the Law Society has released its findings from the largest international survey of women in the law. The survey of 7,781 people (5,758 women, 554 men and 1,469 unknown or other) aims to shed light on current state of gender equality in the legal profession.

Asked whether progress had been achieved on gender equality in the last five years, 74% of men and 48% of women reported that it had. However, several major barriers to career progression were cited, including:

  • unconscious bias (52%), although 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%); and
  • resistance to flexible working practices (41%).

Flexible working was named by 91% of respondents as being critical to improving diversity, with 52% of respondents stating that they do already work in an organisation where flexible working is in place.

Law Society vice-president Christina Blacklaws said: “As women solicitors practising in England and Wales outnumber men for the first time in history, people working in law across the world have spoken out about the challenges the profession faces in achieving gender equality. While more and more women are becoming lawyers, this shift is not yet reflected at more senior levels in the profession. Our survey and a wider programme of work during my presidency in 2018-19 seek to understand progress, barriers and support remedies.”

On the gender pay gap issue, 60% of respondents were aware of a gap where they worked, with just 16% aware that visible steps were being taken to address this gap. As reported in the Gazette, Blacklaws was asked about partners’ pay in relation to mandatory gender pay gap requirements. At present, only salaried partners have to be included in data. She responded: “This is my personal view – I think it would be welcome if law firms did decide to undertake their gender pay gap review for everyone within their business. I think we could really use that information effectively then.”