Legal profession ‘inherently masculine’, says report for LSB
Stereotyping and bias are preventing women and black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors from furthering their careers, a report funded by the Legal Services Board has found.
The report by the University of Westminster claimed that the profession is ‘segmented and stratified’ along the lines of gender, race and class.
It said inequalities in pay and status are causing women and BME lawyers to abandon their careers in ‘disproportionately high numbers’.
The profession is ‘inherently masculine’ in its working patterns and general culture, the report said, and characterised by ‘possibly unwitting’ biases against professionals who are non-white or from lower socio-economic groups.
The report’s authors interviewed 77 lawyers, would-be lawyers and former lawyers, as well as five diversity managers. They found that many women and BME solicitors believe work in their law firms is allocated unfairly, ‘fostering the careers of some at the expense of others’. Respondents also believed that powerful senior figures, ‘generally white men’, tended to foster the careers of ‘young white men’ in what is a ‘white, male elitist’ profession.
The report added that that ‘racial stereotyping remains pervasive, especially in the north of England’.
The report proposes a number of measures for improving diversity in the profession, including: offering bursaries for Legal Practice Course students and trainees; encouraging flexible working for women and men; ensuring work allocation and promotion are transparent; requiring law firms to disclose diversity data; and developing formal support networks and mentoring schemes.
The report, Diversity in the legal profession in England and Wales: a qualitative study of barriers and individual choices, was prepared by the University of Westminster and will be formally launched on 13 October.
LSB chief executive Chris Kenny recently said that driving ‘action on increasing diversity and social mobility in the legal workforce’ is a ‘major priority’ in the LSB’s work. He said the board’s plans to compel law firms to publish data about the diversity of their staff will act as a ‘powerful incentive’ for firms to increase social mobility.