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Equality within the law

On Equal Pay Day, the day that women effectively stop earning relative to men because of the gender pay gap, Alice Ramsay looks at the legal sector and judges how far it has to go to be truly equal.

Alice has been working at Leigh Day since 2009. She specialises in employment and discrimination law and has a particular interest in cases involving gender identity.
The Law Society has been raising awareness of the issue of equal pay within the legal profession and recently introduced an equal pay practice note and toolkit to help law firms take steps to identify, review and address any inequality in pay.

Its efforts to promote equal pay are very welcome. Closing the gender pay gap is, however, far from the end of the story in relation to achieving gender equality throughout the legal profession, given the under-representation of women in senior management roles across private practice, not to mention the issue of gender diversity in the judiciary, which has been widely discussed in recent weeks following Lord Sumption’s comments to the Evening Standard back in September.

Catherine Dixon, Chief Executive of the Law Society, gave a speech last week in which she announced that 48% of solicitors are women but of the approximately 30,000 partners in private practice, 72% are men and only 28% are women.

Her speech was given in support of the First 100 Years, a project to track the changing role of women in law since the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919 first allowed women to enter the legal profession.

The project aims to build a digital library to inspire future generations and ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession.

The timing is critical. Just last week The Lawyer’s student magazine and website, Lawyer 2B, published an article under the headline ‘One third of young female lawyers have lost their ambition to reach the top’ and reported that 88% of young women working in law firms think being a mother is a hindrance to a career, whilst only 5% think being a father is a hindrance.

In the context of such concerns, it’s time for a discussion about what can be done to promote gender equality and how quickly change can be implemented.

So, today, on Equal Pay Day, let’s think of the past, remembering how far we’ve come since the days before 1919 when women were not even allowed to practise law; let’s focus on the present, working to close the gender pay gap and tackle any structural issues hindering women from reaching senior positions; and let’s look to the future, towards the day when gender equality throughout the profession is a reality and not just an aspiration.

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