Equal pay day

Women have made up over half of practicing solicitors since 2018. Unequal pay is one of the biggest barriers to progression. As a profession, we need to continuously and carefully review pay to ensure that pay and promotions are distributed fairly in both private practice and in-house.

As a historically male dominated profession, we need to lead by example and strive to eradicate unequal pay by holding ourselves accountable and dealing with any issues in this respect fairly and promptly.

The Women Lawyers Division of The Law Society has gone some way to do this and have conducted a lot of work in recent years to highlight the importance of the topic.

The law on equal pay is set out in the Equality Act 2010. It is unlawful for a man to be paid more than a woman working in the same or a comparator role. If men and women are not paid equally to conduct the same work, this will perpetuate inequality.

The gender pay gap is the difference between what men typically earn in an organisation compared to what women earn, irrespective of their role or seniority. From 6 April 2017 employers in Great Britain with more than 250 staff are required to publish four types of figures annually on their own website and on a government website:

  • Gender pay gap (mean and median averages)
  • Gender bonus gap (mean and median averages)
  • Proportion of men and women receiving bonuses
  • Proportion of men and women in each quartile of the organisation’s pay structure
  • This year Equal Pay day is on 14 November 2019. That is the day that signifies that for the rest of the year, women are all working for free for the rest of the year.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic women continue to experience bigger pay gaps because of unconscious bias and discrimination. One way to improve awareness and change the culture would be to ensure that gender pay gap reporting is reported by ethnicity.

The Women in Leadership in Law project provided qualitative evidence about the position of women in law. The survey which ran from November 2017 to January 2018 captured 7,781 responses from men and women in the profession from England and Wales as well as other jurisdictions.

60% of respondents in the survey reported being aware of a gender pay gap in their organisation but only 16% reported visible steps being taken to address the issue. A smaller proportion of women (15%) reported steps being taken than men (32%).

A lack of clarity in relation to pay was also identified as a concern across the profession – over 55% of roundtable participants felt that the pay and reward systems in their organisation were not transparent. This includes salary as well as performance related pay and bonuses.

The report also identifies a view that there are often unequal opportunities for women to secure greater pay which can be reflected in an unfair disruption of work.

In terms of solutions to the pay conundrum, the Women in Leadership in Law report provides information on:

  • Ensuring equality of pay.
  • Measuring pay gaps across other minority groups (e.g. ethnicity and disability).
  • Including partner pay in gender pay gap calculations and having an action plan to reduce the pay gap.
One other way firms could look to make progress on the issue of pay is signing the Women in Law Pledge. One of the aspects of the pledge is to ensure that specific aspects of pay, reward and recognition of the senior leadership team are linked to delivery against the gender equality targets as applicable.

Catherine Slattery is a member of the Women Lawyers Division Committee and a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell.

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