Moving the needle on gender equality

Moving the needle on gender equality

What more can your firm do to drive gender equality? Following International Women’s Day, the call to action for accelerating gender equality is a powerful one: law firms that can drive meaningful change are more successful and higher performing. In this article we set out five things your firm can do to create an equal and inclusive organisation.

 Research from The Law Society shows that since 1990, whilst women represent 60% of new entrants to the solicitors’ profession, and as of 2017 make up the majority of practising solicitors, only 28% of partners in private practice are women. The gender pay gap in law firms is more pronounced than the national average of 9.6%, with research from The Times in 2019 indicating that women working in the ten largest legal firms, which combined made about £14bn revenue in 2018, are being paid on average 43% less than their male colleagues. So, here are some actions your firm can take to tackle this.

 Address the gender pay gap

The Equality Act 2010 requires firms to pay the same for the same role, however women may still be disadvantaged when it comes to bonuses and performance related pay.  Be transparent in your organisation in terms of employee pay, and don’t be tempted to exclude the most senior and well-paid lawyers. You can set defined targets for the number or percentage of female partnerships, and be more proactive in setting defined performance and remuneration criteria so individual compensation is not susceptible to bias.  

Tackle unconscious bias

Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic and unintentional, for example young children may tend to draw pilots and firefighters as male. It can impact on firm’s recruitment, work allocation, promotions and decision-making. Unconscious bias training can enable your employees to understand how to identify bias as well as developing practical tools and a vocabulary to combat bias across the firm. Other measures can include using gender-blind recruitment and appointing diversity and inclusion champions to proactively raise awareness.

Really commit to flexible working

When firms commit to flexible working for all staff, at all grades, it can improve employee retention and happiness. It can also send a powerful message when family-friendly practices are role-modelled by senior members of the firm. If you can enable your team members to work from locations that suit them, at hours that make sense for their lives, it will redress the imbalance of women being limited by parental responsibilities. Young lawyers and millennials in particular are demanding a better work-life balance and firms need to respond if they are to retain talent.

Embrace mentoring, networking and sponsorship programmes

Mentoring can be so useful to help young lawyers develop and reach their goals, especially for in-house lawyers who don’t have the same support as those in law firms. You could also consider reverse mentoring where a junior team member shares their expertise with more senior employees—enabling a fresh perspective and breaking down generational and gender stereotypes. Similarly, your firm can join or set up local, regional and networking groups such as Lean In Circles.

Celebrate female success

Make your successful women visible whether that’s as a member of the judiciary, on the board of the firm, a leader within her field, or from your client base to celebrate inspiring role models and promote female talent.

It’s the responsibility of all of us to tackle bias and develop talent across gender, ethnicity, race, all criteria in fact, so that we can build and support a more equal legal industry and society.

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About the author:

Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"