Why are we still talking about the gender pay gap?

With reports rolling in of female lawyers being denied equal remuneration across the legal industry Guy Setford, co-CEO asks why the sector can’t get the basics right?

For many lawyers it’s depressingly unsurprising to read reports in The Lawyer of female lawyers receiving over 40% less in bonuses than male counterparts. This echoes reports this week showing female staff earn 23% less in hourly rates at similar firms. In context, the Law Society Gazette says, “current estimates indicate that the [gender pay] gap is the equivalent of women working 67 days for free each year compared to male colleagues”.

How is it that in a year that has seen such passionate and progressive debate on issues of gender inequality, there are parts of the legal profession still unable to address basic pay inequalities between men and women?

Let’s get the basics right

Our sector has enjoyed immense advances in the last decade – innovation in artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing and paperless working. This is exciting, and should be embraced. However, it seems that historic issues that hit at the core of our profession are still being ignored. That is, the right to earn fair reward for your work, regardless of background or gender.

There are many arguments cited that seek to explain the gender pay gap. Pop-psychology has positioned disparity as stemming from women generally being less likely to ask for a pay rise. However, more recent research seems to debunk this popular theory – women ask as much as men, but still receive less.

Others point to family roles stalling women from a steady rise up the career ladder. Nearly 40% of respondents to a recent survey said that women with childcare responsibilities are disadvantaged. These women also reported still feeling the sting of firm leaders who maintain archaic views of family, motherhood and marriage.

The perpetuation of stereotyped gender roles in family, and at work is not helped by the fact that the majority of partners at traditional firms are men. Whether this partnership divide is deliberately skewed, or a result of unconscious bias, it seems that some traditional partner-model firms are still failing to ensure that reward is assigned fairly.  

A model that wipes out inequalities of reward

When my co-CEO Chris Setford and I set up Setfords ten years ago we did so with fairness at the firm’s heart. That meant no partners, no targets and a flexibility for lawyers to work how they want. We wanted to offer lawyers fair and transparent reward for their work. We had both been running the rat race in traditional firms and knew the lives of lawyers could be better, fairer and more flexible. We weren’t being served by the practices the industry has clung to for centuries and so we set out to make the law firm that we wanted to work at.

The upshot is that we’ve created a model that simply does not allow for inequalities in reward.

No matter gender, race, religion, sexuality, location, fee-share as a consultant means you get back what you put in. With a consultant-led firm that offers the right business support, systems and flexibility, this can mean rewards  that aren’t just fairer – they often exceed expectation.

We are parents too

As a male in this industry I admit that I may have previously been naive as to the challenges encountered by female colleagues in a traditional practice. Now  twelve years in to building a consultant model firm, I have to say that one of my proudest achievements is that it attracts and supports top-class female lawyers who simply want fairness and flexibility.  Over 60% of our consultants are female and work in diverse sectors, from international family matters to complex dispute resolution. The top fee-earner in the firm is female.

Not only that but we positively welcome all to join us – regardless of gender or family status. Women shouldn’t be confined to outdated stereotypes and have to choose between work and family. With a young family myself I appreciate that dads should also be empowered to enjoy fatherhood while continuing to build a career.

So when I question why we are still talking about the gender pay gap, it is not because it is an issue I am blind to, it is borne of frustration that such a basic inequality still exists. I just hope that what we offer – a consultancy model based on fairness could help those lawyers suffering from gender bias find the remedy they are looking for.

Read more about the lives of our consultants and find out what Setfords can offer you

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