By DebbieH 08 Mar 2019 7 min read

International Women’s Day #Balanceforbetter

Today marks International Women’s Day, a time for celebrating women’s achievements, while also calling for a more gender-balanced world.

Collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity is what makes International Women’s Day successful – and today, we would like to acknowledge the achievements made by women in the legal sector, and also push for change regarding the gender gap in the industry.

So what does the legal sector currently look like genderwise? Taken from our recently launched annual report, we’ve shown our insights on the gender difference, taken from our data on Google Analytics:

As you can see from our data, the legal industry is seemingly female dominated, judging from those who visited our website.

Legal secretary roles was particularly female oriented – over 82% of users searching for legal secretary jobs on our site were women.

Over 73% of those searching for admin roles were also female.

It was also noticeable how many roles had an almost 50:50 split in gender. Law costs draftsperson roles showed that 50.93% of those who searched for those jobs on our site were male, while 49.07% were women.

Solicitor roles also appeared to be female dominated. 57.85% of those who searched on our site were women.

Paralegal roles were also majority female, at 64.71%.

Key figures for women in law

In 2017, 68.8% of UK students accepted on to undergraduate and postgraduate courses in law were women. 

Women made up 48% of all lawyers in law firms, and 47% of the UK workforce.

For other staff working in law firms, women made up three quarters of the workforce.

Figures also showed that 61.6% of new admissions in 2016/17 were women.

Law firms have many of the right policies and programs in place to improve gender diversity, but the major issue at present, is the lack of female representatives at executive and partner level.

In 2017, women made up 59% of non-partner solicitors, compared to just 33% of partners.

The difference is greater still in the largest firms (50+), where 29% of partners are female, according to The Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The Law Society report mentioned that around 60% of the Law Society Group workforce is female. And 47% of women in law reported that there had been progress in gender equality.


Senior level

Women are relatively well represented in the professional pipeline. So what explains the apparent lack of female presence at equity partner level, where representation drops sharply?

Law Society recently ran a survey regarding gender. They surveyed 7,781 people, and found that 52% of women felt that there was an unconscious bias preventing other women from reaching senior positions within the legal profession.

Some of those factors included work/life balance, and that traditional networks/routes were male oriented.

What’s more, it was also reported by Law Society that 60% of over 6,000 individuals who were asked if they were aware of a gender pay gap within their organisation said yes.

We spoke to our partners the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs, to get their view:

Women have come a long way in the legal industry. Up until the 1920s, women were not able to practice as Solicitors in the UK. Even as recently as the 1960s there were only a minute percentage of female Solicitors. These days things have changed and nearly half of Solicitors are women! We find that there is more of an imbalance in higher up positions such as partners in firms and judicial roles, which are predominantly male. At the other end of the scale, we see more women working as Legal Secretaries or PAs than men. Around 90% of ILSPA’s Students and Members are women, however we like to encourage men to become Legal Secretaries as it’s a great way to get your foot in the door and gain experience.”


So how is the legal industry tackling gender diversity?

Clearly, from  there is progress being made, and many of the decision makers in law firms do have a moral impetus for championing diversity and genuinely want to make the workplace inclusive. Gender diversity is seemingly at its best at trainee level, with a number of firms reporting an almost 50:50 split. Despite the lower figures reported at senior level, many are working to promote gender balance and highlight equality in the industry. The women’s affinity group at Jones Day, for example, is a place where women go to discuss what they want to get out of their career, giving them the tools they need to achieve it, and tackling any work/life balance concerns. CMS has introduced a ‘blind work allocation in some areas of the business to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to thrive.’ CMS and Slaughter and May have also introduced a mentoring scheme to push their gender equality agenda.

As we see an increase in initiatives like the above, we’re confident that we will begin to see the figures reported at senior level balance out.