The third anniversary of a pledge to create a more equal legal profession has prompted a fresh call for law firms to analyse data they hold to understand the barriers preventing women becoming leaders.

The profession’s main representative bodies – the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives – are celebrating three years since they introduced the Women in Law pledge, which now has 46 signatories.

It is also 100 years since the first woman solicitor was admitted.

Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘Carrie Morrison was the first of four women to be admitted as a solicitor, with Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes and Maud Croft also admitted at the same time - and so began a new era for women in the legal profession.'

Over the past three years, Boyce said, 'there have been signs of progress, with some workplaces analysing their pay gap data in greater detail and planning action to address underlying causes such as the under-representation of women at senior levels'. Last year women accounted for 61% of solicitors but only 35% of partners.

However she added: ‘Women still face bias, the prospect of an unacceptable work/life balance in exchange for senior progression and the challenge in navigating a male-oriented promotion path. The unequal sharing of caring responsibilities was evident during lockdown, with women solicitors being more likely than men to take on extra childcare and home-schooling responsibilities.

‘This meant that some women had to change their working hours and work responsibilities. While many were supported to do so and welcomed that support at the time, it could also have longer-term implications for their career progression.’

Boyce said the Women in Law pledge is a vital tool for firms to commit to a range of mechanisms, such as senior level accountability for progressing gender equality and targets at senior level.

‘We urge our member firms to analyse the data they have and engage with their employees to better understand the specific barriers to women progressing to leadership roles and develop actions to change things,’ Boyce added.


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