How well women do in legal careers may depend on where they live - Law Society research

How far senior women can go in their legal careers may well depend on where they live, new research released by the Law Society of England and Wales to mark 2019 International Women’s Day suggests.

“2019 is the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which allowed women to train as solicitors, serve as magistrates and sit on juries,” said Law Society president Christina Blacklaws.

“The profession has made great strides over the past hundred years but there is still a long journey to gender equality, particularly at senior levels in certain regions of England and Wales.

“We hope our new Women in Leadership in Law report will assist legal businesses with the insight and tools to drive diversity - right up to the most senior levels - and create equal opportunities for all.”

Country-wide, 62.2% of new solicitors in 2018 were women but only 30.8% of partners in private practice were women.

In the East Midlands, Wales, East and South East, firms have a higher than average proportion of female partners. Perhaps surprisingly, London has the lowest proportion of partners who are women.*

With so many smart, talented women entering the profession, it simply does not add up that female solicitors across the country are struggling to reach senior leadership positions.

Men’s perception of progress towards gender equality is strikingly different from their female counterparts’.

Christina Blacklaws said: “More than half of the respondents we interviewed in our survey on women in the law cited perceived unconscious bias as the greatest barrier to women’s career progression with an overwhelming 91% saying flexible working is critical to improving diversity.**

“As a profession which endeavours to uphold justice, the legal profession needs to lead the way in the fight for equality in the workplace.

“To create a more diverse senior leadership, diversity and gender equality must be placed at the heart of business decisions. The profession needs to come together to combat unconscious bias, encourage flexible working and meet both men and women’s working needs.”

Notes to editors

Read the full report: Influencing for impact: The need for gender equality in the legal profession: Women in Leadership in Law report - Findings from the women's roundtables.

*Regional figures for women in the law (2017-18)

Region Total number of admissions % of admissions who are women Total number of partner equivalents % of partners who are women % of all partners who are BAME women
East Midlands 187 71.7% 1302 34.5% 4.8%
Eastern 249 69.9% 1,880 37.0% 4.2%
Greater London 2711 58.1% 13,408 27.9% 6.5%
North East 114 64.9% 835 32.6% 0.8%
North West 620 66.6% 3,619 30.9% 4.0%
South East 452 68.1% 3,328 37.0% 3.4%
South West 308 66.2% 2,249 30.7% 0.7%
Wales 142 71.8% 1,082 34.3% 0.8%
Yorkshire and Humberside 404 65.6% 2,162 29.9% 3.3%
West Midlands 321 63.9% 2,202 30.4% 6.9%
Others*** 864 58.8% 252 23.8% 2.4%
Total 6,372 62.2% 32,319 30.8% 4.7%

Law Society, MI data, July 2018

***Includes those working outside the England and Wales, those with unknown region and for admissions, those not attached to an organisation.

**Key findings from the 2018 women in law survey:

  • 74% of men and 48% of women reported progress on gender equality in the last five years
  • 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

Find out more about women in leadership in the law and see statistics from the 2018 survey 

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