The Gazette’s recent survey about whether gender discrimination exists within the legal profession clearly struck a chord with many readers.
Not only did we get a pretty good response rate, but also a huge number of detailed comments and opinions from those who participated.
Indeed, out of 192 women who responded to the survey, 68 took the time to write extra comments, as did 14 of the 52 men who responded.
Sadly there was not room to squeeze many of these into my news story, so I have included some of the most pertinent ones below.
Firstly, here is what some of the men had to say:
‘The only problem for women is for those who leave to have children and then come back. You cannot go part time or have time out whatever your reason or sex and expect to keep up with those who do not - it is a factual thing not a discriminatory one.’
‘Anyone's career will inevitably suffer if time is taken out, whether it be for a sabbatical or to have a baby.
'As such women get the raw end of this - they have to make the awful decision whether to have children or to get the absolute maximum from their careers. This seems highly unfair but I honestly cannot see a way around it.’
‘People with an agenda perceive a problem where often none exist. Discrimination is not the problem that it is made out be!’
‘There is an industry bias against men.’
‘As a sole principal, I have always operated a level playing field. Other firms do not, even though women outnumber men for the first time. Most such discriminations are carried forward by one generation to the next, but hopefully will diminish - but not before it has been endured by another generation of disgruntled women.’
‘The major reason for differentiation at work is the fact that women tend to prefer to arrange work around children when they have them. Men and women who remain without children behave differently.
'There is no inherent bias against women within the profession as a whole, although that may not be true of everyone.’
‘More flexible working is required for both men and women.’
‘Age discrimination is the elephant in the room - try carrying out a survey on the real issue facing practitioners.’
‘I am tired of this debate.’
Certainly an intriguing range of views from the fellas – so what did the women have to say? Here are some snippets:
‘I think gender discrimination is still shockingly prevalent in the legal profession. At my previous firm both myself and a woman from corporate commercial discovered male equals were being paid more.
'In her case she had worked for the firm for a number of years more than her male colleague and conducted a more complex caseload, and yet he was on more money. We were both shocked and disappointed to discover the true level of gender discrimination within the firm.’
‘In an age where people take for granted the fact that women and men are equal, I am shocked to get into the workplace and discover that firms may "talk the talk" but definitely do not "walk the walk".
'Hardly any of the female fee earners I work with have children, or are even married, which makes me think that the working life here is simply not compatible with family life, nor sufficiently flexible to accommodate employees who are mothers.’
‘Discrimination is very subtle. Basically the higher you try to climb the more barriers seem to be put in your way. Have you noticed how women seem to be kept out of the more commercial dispute litigation, only allowed in to assist.
'Basically they do all the hard stressful donkey work. Discrimination is there, but it is less tangible. Direct discrimination is not really there. But just take a look at how many women do not make equity partner in city law firms. It is not because there is not a pool of talent there is.’
‘Female litigators aren't given the same work as male litigators sometimes because of the identity of the client ("he wouldn't get along well with a woman" or, "a female lawyer would not have credibility with him").
'I suppose these assumptions can sometimes be true, but I think the onus is on us as a profession to provide opportunities for and promote our women, then stand behind our choice and support them.’
‘In practice, unless a woman is willing to forgo any form of family life, including maternity leave, she may as well forget being given the type of work that will lead to promotion.
'Likewise, the type of work on offer - yes, in theory it is available to both sexes but if you only work four days per week then you won't get the big cases.’
‘Of all the professions, lawyers still seem to be the furthest behind in terms of discrimination in the workplace and in terms of making any kinds of concessions for flexible working.
'There is no reason why legal work cannot be done in a more flexible manner, but the vast majority of senior lawyers in law firms still behave as if "face time" is more important than actually doing a good job.
'So even if you leave work at 5.30pm to fetch a child from school, but then do four hours of work that night at home ... you're still not "pulling your weight" or are "compromising your promotion opportunities".’
‘I was involved in a discussion with a senior manager and colleague and was told that if you didn't play golf or rugby you were at a distinct disadvantage. There are very few female role models in senior positions within the company I work for.
'This sends a clear message that unless I am quite exceptional, other male colleagues with similar or less experience will be promoted more quickly and in some cases beyond their capability, ahead of me. I see men moving through the ranks and am disappointed that women who have greater experience and capabilities are not progressing in the same way.’
‘In my experience men and women are treated entirely equally - but that means that women are expected to be able to do what men do in order to progress career wise - and in reality many women can't or won't do that once they have children - that is the real issue. Being treated equally on men's terms is not what all women want.’
‘There is no incentive on law firms to change the existing model i.e. "man-shaped" jobs, because it works superbly for the decision makers (i.e. those at the top) and, as the model is successful for both them and clients also, they would claim, it works for clients too. So why take the risk of changing it? No compelling business need to do so has been demonstrated.’
Trying to gain partnership even just salaried is hard in a City firm. Being made an equity partner seems almost impossible. I look at the women above me. The work just as hard as the men, talented and with a client base. They linger at salaried level far longer than their male counterparts after jumping through smaller hoops.’
‘I was told in my 3-month appraisal that it was just a fact of life that females have to work harder and achieve more than their male counterparts to impress male partners. I was shocked that this was something I was just supposed to accept.
'There were two trainees in one (particularly male-dominated) department, one male and one female. It was noticeable that male was far busier than the female, and was consistently given a higher quality of work.’
‘In respect of networking events in the corporate field, my male colleague was favoured over myself. However, it can also be an 'advantage' to be a young woman where there is a male environment so as to be included to 'balance' the numbers on occassions!’
‘Especially pre-1990, in the northeast, and in a trade union firm, I experienced and observed direct discrimination, and a locker-room attitude which held me back.
'I was asked sexist questions at interviews and so were my friends DESPITE child care and/or maternity leave not being an issue or potential issue in my case.’
‘Years ago, at a job interview I was crossed examined on my marriage prospects!! A very long time ago.’
‘Not in my current job, but in the days when I worked in private practice people would often assume I was a secretary rather than a solicitor.’
‘It is more because of having family commitments than specifically being female.’
‘Men are paid more and are paid bonuses, the women are not.’
‘There is no direct evidence [of being at a disadvantage due to my gender] I can point to. I was involved in a discussion with a senior manager and colleague and was told that if you didn't play golf or rugby you were at a distinct disadvantage.
'There are very few female role models in senior positions within the company I work for. This sends a clear message that unless I am quite exceptional, other male colleagues with similar or less experience will be promoted more quickly and in some cases beyond their capability, ahead of me.
'I see men moving through the ranks and am disappointed that women who have greater experience and capabilities are not progressing in the same way.’
‘Despite having the same level of experience as a male colleague doing the same role, cases were not allocated to us equally.
'He would be allocated the larger more complex cases, which would mean the target for bonus was significantly easier to achieve for him. Not only was the financial aspect a concern but also the allocation of such cases to him, over and above myself, gave him opportunity to progress and gain additional experience.
'Dealing with department queries, miscellaneous items and assisting during staff absences etc were tasks required of the females in the department but not the males.’
‘I don't think there will ever be as many women in senior roles in law firms for a couple of reasons, the main one is that lots of women do not have the same ambition they once had after having children (I include lots of my friends in this) and because if they have reached partner/director level, there is no maternity pay in many cases.
'Some areas of law are more time-demanding than others, and I think the more demanding they are, the less appealing they are to a lot (not all) of women regardless of whether or not they have children. I include myself in this, there comes a point where the increase in pay you would get does not justify (to me) the extra input that would be required.’
What the Gazette poll showed was that although there is a very varied range of views among the profession in terms of whether discrimination does exist against women, some common themes – lack of compatibility with family life, unequal pay – come up time and again.
It seems the profession still has a long way to go before it reaches true equality.