Will the gender pay gap ever close?

The gender pay gap is a well-documented phenomenon within business. Despite the implementation of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, prohibiting discrimination in terms of pay and the conditions of employment, and now superseded within the Equality Act 2010, it remains the case that female employees across every sector are still paid less than their male counterparts.

Recently, UK government introduced a new reporting structure on the gender pay gap. This requires any organisation with over 250 staff to publish four types of figures annually on their own website. This statistic, however, is by no means to be viewed in a vacuum. Within the legal sector in particular, female lawyers are set to constitute more of the workforce than men in 2017. Despite this, females in the industry are paid 10.3% less than their male counterparts.

So the question must be asked – what is the reason for this continually skewed average? One answer may sit with the structure of the average law firm.

In a recent survey, it was found that just 7% of partners in the legal profession were female. Just two of the 100 plus firms surveyed had a partnership ratio where more than 50% of partners were women. The same research noted that, on average, 48.6% of trainee solicitors in magic circle firms were female, and 47% of associate level solicitors – as close to gender parity as one can get. This figure is reduced to 18.8% when reaching the level of partner, however.

At a trainee level, the average salary sits at £37,000. For the 440 top earning “equity partners”, however, pay pushed above the £1.5m mark for the first time this year. With an average partner age of 60, according to the Law Gazette, and a skewed gender ratio, it is no surprise therefore that average salary within this industry will also be skewed. The good efforts put forward by the UK government and varying firms individually is overshadowed by the pay of those at the top. With the average retirement age within the legal profession sat at 65 years old, it would seem the issue of gender pay disparity may yet take a number of years before the effects show at the top end.

With the average gender make-up of males and females in the legal profession largely consistent throughout the trainee and associate phases, and payment progressing equally in line with this trend, it seems as though the legal profession is indeed heading in the right direction. When looking at the gender pay gap within the legal industry, it is clear that amongst the entry and mid-levels salary and gender are close to equal – overall averages are skewed by huge payments for partner-level professionals.

With an average of five years left before said partners begin to retire, then, it would seem that the gender pay gap is on its way to closing – at least within the legal sector. For equality to be fully achieved, the objective is clear – a greater level of gender diversity within the highest echelons of the law. With equal numbers of male and female staff at an entry and associate level, the right talent is in place to make the transition to these roles once the time is right.