According to a new report on British lawyers, diversity is still a problem in the law. Basically, it really pays to be a white man in the legal field. For women and minorities, it’s a bit tougher.
A comprehensive survey of almost 2,000 law professionals has given rise to what its authors describe as a “wake-up call” for the industry. According to The Lawyer, “The “hard truth”, they say, is that the more an individual diverges from the white male norm, the less well-paid and less satisfied they are with their career progress.” And though in the past 15 years many more women have gone into law and firms have rolled out diversity programs, the glass ceiling is still very intact.
The differences are most clearly seen with salaries. The top 10% of white male lawyers earn a minimum of £200,000-£300,000, followed by the top 10% of white women, Asian men and mixed race men who are all in the £100,000-£200,000 minimum band. He also said homosexual professionals in law have to “overachieve” to progress. Study author and CMS head of international markets Daniel Winterfeldt said:
“Generally speaking, white male lawyers are making the most money and are happiest. Each time you add a layer that diverges further from this ‘norm’ it shows a disproportionate impact. So, white women are less happy and make less, black women even less, and so on.
Well over half the people recruited into the legal sector are women, yet there are a lot more men at the top making a lot more money, so the timetable of progression is a real problem. Maternity is a cop-out, an excuse. Many women don’t have children and families now share responsibility. If a guy went off to climb the Himalayas and came back after a year the reaction would be ‘Wow, a year in the mountains’, whereas if a woman is off on maternity leave it’s like a death.”
That is a perfect way to sum up how certain industries regard maternity leave. Clearly law is one of them. The study found that mothers (29.2%) who work either part-time (22.4%) or flexibly (16.2%) feel it has negatively influenced their career development. And more than a third of female lawyers (34.3%) feel their gender has held them back.
The study also found that women at the junior associate level are given the most grunt work and therefore just helping to support the white male partner status. Women account for 47% of the current crop of first- and second-year associates, down from 48% in prior surveys. They do not get to work with clients as much as men and they don’t get to make the same kinds of contacts. The report adds, “The data […] suggests for instance that women are useful back room workers whose career life is seen as inevitably truncated and therefore while a few are promoted, thereby diversifying the public image somewhat, the majority effectively support the white male partnerships.”
Almost twice as many white female lawyers (27%) than white male lawyers (15%) believe high-quality work is not allocated fairly in their workplace (surprise, surprise) and female lawyers also felt that their male colleagues had more access to mentoring support.
There are a lot of challenging jobs out there for women but it seems that being a lawyer may be one of the toughest. The law industry could arguably even be on par with women who work in finance. And it seems to have gotten even tougher in the last decade instead of better. In addition to the path being less lucrative, the road to partner seems for women seems to be more difficult. Women at the top of the ladder have trouble advancing and it isn’t easy for lawyers at the associate level as well. Plus sexism, a major mommy penalty, inflexible work schedules and that annoying dress code can’t make it any easier.