The Law Society has revealed that the number of women solicitors practising in England and Wales now outnumbers men for the first time ever, Owen Bowcott reports.
The figures have emerged on International Women’s Day along with a survey of members which shows that 91% of those consulted believe that more flexible working would help improve diversity in the profession.
The newly released Law Society figures show that there are now 69,995 practising women solicitors in England and Wales, making up 50.1% of the 139, 624 total. There are fewer men: 69,629, amounting to 49.9%.
While the overall number of female solicitors has overtaken men, the senior ranks in most law firms are still dominated by male partners – showing that there is further to travel 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 … have spoken out about the challenges the profession faces in achieving gender equality,” the Law Society’s vice president, Christina Blacklaws, said.
“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 … seeks 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.”
The Law Society survey, answered by nearly 8,000 solicitors, recorded only 11% of respondents saying that unconscious bias training was carried out consistently in their organisation. Almost half (49%) said that the work/life balance required in order to reach senior levels was unacceptable.
Nearly two-thirds (60%) said they were aware of a gender pay gap in their place of work and approaching half (46%) said that traditional networks/routes to promotion were ‘male orientated’.