The profession must use International Women’s Day as a springboard to achieve true equity, overcome barriers and progress women solicitors to senior levels, says The Law Society.
The Law Society’s Annual Statistics 2021 found that 60% of new admissions are women and 53% of practising solicitors are women.
Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja said:
“In December 2022 we marked 100 years since Carrie Morrison was admitted as the first woman solicitor in England and Wales.
Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes, Maud Crofts and Agnes Twiston Hughes (the first Welsh woman solicitor) paved the way for all the women who have followed them to practise law in England and Wales.
Now we must take their fortitude, determination and drive for change as we look to the next 100 years.”
However, there are issues regarding pay, retention and promotion of women lawyers, with women currently making up only 35% of partners.
Their analysis of the national gender pay gap service of some of the largest 50 UK law firms showed the median pay gap was 32.4%. However, this did not include partner pay which would have increased the overall gender pay gap further.
“This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity,” Shuja added. She then explained that it is “where the world needs to understand the difference between equity and equality and why equal opportunities are not enough”.
“Work is not always fairly allocated, promotion structures tend to favour the traditional career paths predominantly followed by men, challenging work-life balances and the lack of visible senior women role models, continue to hold many women back from reaching their full potential.
As a result, firms and the profession are losing brilliant solicitors on the cusp of senior leadership.”
Nonetheless, The Law Society highlights the positive signs of progress, with “firms analysing their pay gap data in greater detail, publishing further data on partner pay, taking action to ensure the gender diversity is of their newly appointed partners through recruitment or promotion targets and creating action plans to address inequality”.
The way in which they will “protect and retain the best diverse of talent” is by stating that the “profession must lead with clear policies and inclusive workplace cultures that embrace and promote effective flexible working, alternative progression paths and support for women returning to the profession after family or career breaks”.
Shuja also said:
“The role of men in the conversation is also key. We are seeing more men taking up shared parental leave policies and adapting their working patterns for their own wellbeing. Along with alternative methods of entry into the profession, this change of mindset will allow the whole workforce to thrive within an inclusive workplace.
We are pushing the sector to address these issues to make real, lasting change.
The Law Society launched its Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Framework to help achieve this by recommending a systematic approach to D&I. It has three simple steps firms can follow and tangible actions to embed D&I in a way that has lasting impact.”
The firm urges their members to commit to their “Women in Law Pledge”, which requires signatories to commit to senior level accountability for progressing gender equality, setting targets for women at senior levels and creating a culture that’s inclusive and free from bias, says The Law Society.
“Our Women Solicitors Network continues to promote inclusion in the legal profession and supports and advises all women and aspiring women solicitors”, said Shuja. “We have made great progress since the first women solicitors, but we can do more and do it better. This International Women’s Day, we should all reflect on how we can collectively contribute to this change.”
Read more about Women in the Law Pledge here.