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Largest ever survey on gender equality in legal profession

8 March 2018

The largest international survey of women in the law has been released by the Law Society of England and Wales to mark International Women’s Day 2018, shedding light on the road to gender equality in the legal profession.

“As women solicitors practising in England and Wales outnumber men for the first time in history, people working in law across the world have spoken out about the challenges the profession faces in achieving gender equality,” said Law Society vice president Christina Blacklaws.

“I am a passionate believer in equality. Where there is inequality, I will not flinch from tackling it.

“I know I’m not alone in this - justice, fairness and the rule of law are what drew most of us to the legal profession.

“While more and more women are becoming lawyers, this shift is not yet reflected at more senior levels in the profession. Our survey and a wider programme of work during my presidency in 2018-19 seek to understand progress, barriers and support remedies.

“Unconscious bias in the legal profession is the most commonly identified barrier to career progression for women, while flexible working is seen as a remedy by an overwhelming 91% of respondents to our survey.

“Interestingly, while half of all respondents said they thought there had been progress on gender equality over the last five years, there was a significant difference in perception by gender with 74% of men reporting progress in gender equality compared to only 48% of women.”

Key figures:

  • 7,781 people responded to the Law Society’s Women in the Law survey (5,758 women, 554 men and 1,469 unknown or other)
  • 74% of men and 48% of women reported progress on gender equality in the last 5 years (overall 50%)
  • Main barriers to career progression perceived as:
    - Unconscious bias (52%); however, only 11% said unconscious bias training is consistently carried out in their organisation
    - Unacceptable work/life balance demanded to reach senior levels (49%)
    - Traditional networks/routes to promotion are male orientated (46%)
    - Current resistance to flexible working practices (41%)
  • 91% of respondents said flexible working is critical to improving diversity
    - 52% work in an organisation where flexible working is in place
  • 60% are aware of gender pay gap in their place of work
    - Only 16% see visible steps taken to address gender pay gap

Christina Blacklaws concluded: “With our women in leadership programme, the Law Society is committed to giving women and men in law the tools to make positive changes towards gender equality.

“Every law firm, solicitor and client will benefit from greater equality in our places of work. I believe our justice system will also be stronger if the legal profession better reflects the values we uphold.”

Notes to editors

Download the women in the law infographic (PDF 139kb)

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Harriet Beaumont | harriet.beaumont@lawsociety.org.uk | +44 (0)20 7320 5830