Women in law don’t see pay equality happening in their working lives, UK study finds

Almost two-thirds of women say senior management at their firms aren’t prioritising gender pay

A majority of women working in the legal profession don’t believe they will see gender pay equality during their careers, according to a new study by the Next 100 Years project and pay disparity software provider Gapsquare.

As many as 84% of women in law say they won’t see true pay parity in their working lives, while almost a third (29%) say it won’t happen within the next century. More than half (54%) say gender pay equality in law is only likely to be achieved for the next generation of women workers. Almost two-thirds of respondents (62%) believe that senior management in their firms are not prioritising fixing the pay gap. The survey marks 100 years since women were first admitted to the UK Law Society as solicitors.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of Next 100 Years, said: “The lack of faith in law firm leadership’s willingness to tackle the gender pay gap is not only alarming for the immediate and future careers of women in the industry, but also for the future of the industry itself. With inclusivity playing an increasingly large role in employee retention, such sentiments, particularly amongst the younger generation, have the potential to impact future employee turnover in the legal sector.”

Gapsquare’s analysis of pay rates provided by law firms under the gender pay reporting guidelines show a median pay gap of 25.4% – little changed since mandatory reporting was introduced in 2017.

Zara Nanu, CEO of Gapsquare, said: “The gender pay gap goes beyond a renumeration issue. Businesses need to ensure women receive better opportunities and start tackling gender inequality from new angles. This restructuring of workplaces is about making voices heard, talent seen and reconsidering what leaders look like.” 

While women have made up more than 60% of new solicitors since 1992, only a small proportion are being promoted to senior roles. In 2019, just 31% of partners were women. Law Society research shows that gender pay inequality at UK law firms is 50% wider than the average for businesses in the UK. Women in the largest law firms earn a fifth less than men. 

Denis-Smith added: “We need an end to excuses and a focused effort on closing this huge pay discrepancy between men and women. Leaders must assess their pay structures to ensure there is equal pay for equal work.”

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