IWD: The law profession’s chance to grow with “equity”
It’s International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is all about embracing “equity” - a term that is about bringing together inclusion and belonging. As a traditionally male-dominated sector, how can law firms use equity to address the balance and grow?
Are law firms dominated by men?
First, let’s tackle the stigma: is the legal sector actually dominated by men, or is it just a perception?
Data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) from 2022 reveals women make up 52% of lawyers in law firms - a figure that has increased from 51% in 2019. Conversely, men made up 46% of lawyers - down from 47% in 2019. Accordingly, women are dominating the legal sector overall.
What about those in senior positions?
There are still fewer females in senior roles as compared to men. The Annual Diversity of the Judiciary Report, published by UK Government, stated that one third of all partners are women. This number drops to a quarter for female equity partners.
What’s more, if you break down those figures further, two-thirds of male partners is equal to 21,806 men, whereas the remaining one third represents 10,664 female partners.
The figures look worse when you compare them to the numbers of, female solicitors in the field – there are 76,933 female solicitors but with only 10,664 being partners, this means that only 13.8% of female solicitors reach partnership level. This is compared to almost a third of male solicitors in the UK being partners.
If men were represented proportionality to women, there would be a not-so-grand total of 3,009 male partners. Likewise, if women were represented in the same proportion to men, there would be 23,849 female partners. Quite a difference!
Why do we need more “equity”?
Women are more likely to take career breaks when having children, and it appears they are not being given the right opportunities to return to work. According to the Centre for Progressive Policy, women give 450 million hours of childcare each week, compared to 186 million provide by men. The same study also revealed 1 in 4 women had reduced their hours at work and 1 in 5 were prevented from working more hours despite wanting to work more. In fact, 5m women would rather work more flexible hours if they could – and this could boost women’s earning potential by up to £28.4bn per annum.
This is why we need more “equity”, a term described by the International Women’s Day campaign website in this context as more than just being treated equally. It recognises that each person has different circumstances, and “allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome”.
In real world terms, it might mean that women and men are given the same opportunities, but one may need to take on more parenting or other caring responsibilities, so when it comes to hiring them into their role, they need to be given more flexibility.
In fact, we can see that in our own firm. Amber O’Connor is a partner at our Dorking office, who successfully – and quickly – climbed the ranks of her career while also raising a family. She attributes her success to the fact that she has been afforded flexibility when she needs it. At the firm we also have 5 other female partners including 1 at equity board level. Our overall staff is split but our trainee intake is addressing this balance with more female trainees.
How does this benefit law firms?
The step from equality to equity allows more parents or carers to progress in their careers, which could have been prohibitive previously.
It could be a great opportunity. By looking at each person’s needs - e.g., childcare arrangements - it means there is no longer a choice between a working life and raising children. There is some great talent out there which may be undiscovered, perhaps because employers were not being flexible enough to attract them back into the workplace.
The better our people, the more competitive businesses are, because more people want to work with you and for you - it’s a winner all around.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Remember, if you are facing discrimination in your role, or you’re having a difficult time with your employer, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.