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Seven reasons why the legal profession needs International Women’s Day

02 March 2017

Wednesday 8 March is International Women's Day, an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and highlight the challenges that still have to be overcome. Suzanne Gallagher and Shereen Semnani offer seven reasons why the legal profession needs to sit up and take notice.

1. Because women should be empowered to break that glass ceiling

Although 67 per cent of law students are female, only 63 per cent of trainees are. Women make up 50 per cent of the roll, but only 49 per cent of those holding a practising certificate. Even though women have made up over 50 per cent of new entrants to the profession since 1993, we still only account for only 28 per cent of judges and just 24 per cent of the partners, falling to 18 per cent among magic circle and US firms. 43 per cent of men make it to partner but only 19 per cent of women.

2. Because diversity creates better business

Gender-diverse companies are 15 per cent more likely to outperform their competitors. This jumps to 35 per cent for ethnically-diverse businesses. Operating profits are more than 50 per cent higher for international firms with higher female representation on their boards. Diversity breeds creativity and innovation, which leads to organisations thriving. Diversity goes hand in hand with strong financial performance.

3. Because clients are calling for action

Hewlett-Packard threatened to withhold up to 10 per cent of costs invoiced by law firms that fail to meet their minimum diversity requirements. Aviva has threatened to terminate contracts with suppliers that fail to promote women to senior roles. Our clients are driving diversity at all levels, and expect no less from their external advisors. They believe the profession can and should do better.

4. Because equal pay has not yet been achieved

Women are paid 10 per cent less than men in the legal profession: £23.53 per hour, compared to £26.23 per hour. The average salary for a qualified male lawyer of any level stands at £60,000, compared with £48,500 for women. That is a difference of more than two months gross salary. Women effectively work for free from mid-November because of the gender pay gap, which will take 60 years to close at the current rate of progress.

5. Because sexual harassment at work must come to an end

A 2016 study commissioned by the TUC and Everyday Sexism Project found that more than half of women have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, rising to 63 per cent among women and girls aged 16 to 24.

Setting aside the implications of harassment for women themselves, there is a strong business case for eliminating this behaviour. Even low-level harassment affects the bottom line, through absenteeism, increased staff turnover and lower job performance and productivity, settlement costs, and rising insurance premiums. This is simply not good for business.

6. Because we need to change attitudes towards parental leave

Despite decades of social progress, women still have most of the responsibility of childcare. A study by the University of Oslo found that this early interaction has longer-term benefits for a child’s learning abilities. Women returning to work are met with significant obstacles to get their career back on track. The Returner’s Course offered by the Law Society is a great step towards enabling returners to overcome the barriers to re-entry.

7. Because inspiration is a powerful force

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to inspire and be inspired. Women in the profession can be leaders by taking bold, pragmatic action to accelerate gender equality. Through purposeful collaboration, we can help women advance, opening up limitless opportunities to economies across the world.

One example to follow is Baroness Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court. Baroness Hale became the first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission, in 1984, having coming first in her year in the bar finals in 1969. A pioneer of family and social law, she persevered to shape the law in favour of equality.

Find out more about International Women's Day
The Law Society’s International Women’s Day event - fully booked
Find out more about the Law Society's Women Lawyers Division

Tags: diversity and inclusion | International Womens Day

About the author

Shereen Semnani is a recent law graduate and is the Women Lawyers Division's youngest member and student representative.

About the author

Suzanne Gallagher is trainee solicitor at Devonshires and is the trainee representative of the Women Lawyers Division.

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