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Law Society Gazette: Why should law firms get away with unequal pay? By Esther Martin

Why should law firms get away with unequal pay?

By Esther Martin

10 November 2017

Between now and the end of the year, female lawyers should take note that they are effectively working for free. That is according to the Equal Pay Day, being marked today, Friday 10 November 2017.

The gender pay gap has long been an issue in the legal sector, but it will come even more to the fore over the next few months as we count down to the first publication date for pay gap information under the new Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 (the regulations).

These regulations require all employers with 250 employees or more to publish certain prescribed pay data highlighting their gender pay gap. Whilst this data will not provide specific details about the gap for individuals or small groups of employees, it will shine a light on those organisations which have the greatest gaps and, hopefully, encourage those employers to address this going forward.

Lawyers, however, should be aware: the regulations do not require LLP members to be included in the statistics, so if you were hoping to find out the gender pay gap amongst the partners in your firm, or any other firm you might be considering joining, you won’t find the answer in their gender pay data published under the regulations. In law firms, it is often at partnership level where there is even less pay transparency and issues surrounding promotion of women to partnership exist.

There is some glimmer of hope on the horizon for women: in terms of full-time median average hourly pay, the difference between men and women has fallen to 9.1% from last year’s 9.4% (Office of National Statistics).

However, in some areas, the gap seems to be widening rather than narrowing. This year’s Equal Pay Day comes just a week after the World Economic Forum estimated that it will take 217 years for the economic gender gap to close. That figure is 47 years longer than last year’s calculation. Whilst there are clearly a number of reasons behind the historical gender pay differences, employers should now be focusing on ways to improve this situation.

The first step to tackle the gender pay gap issue is to simply make sure that we are talking about it.

To that end, April 2018 will see the first deadline for compulsory reporting of gender pay gap data in the UK. Publication of this data could open the door for some female employees to question their own personal pay position, in turn leading to potential risks for employers, including claims for sex discrimination or equal pay. The effect that such issues can have on workplace morale, recruitment and retention of staff is not insignificant and should not be ignored.

Read Esther’s Law Society Gazette article here.