I’ll start with a statistic. According to The Lawyer UK 200, only 18.6% of all legal partners in the UK are women. That’s less than one in five. For every boardroom of partners, every woman is surrounded by four men.
The figure, needless to say, shows very slow improvement in terms of gender equality and doesn’t bode well for the nearly 60% of law students who are also female.
Or does it? The figure is perhaps the motivation that the industry actually needed. Despite these unfavourable statistics, the ground of the legal industry is shifting, and shifting fast.
Whilst in the past, it’s perhaps been better known for its old boys’ club vibe, the law has changed a lot in recent years. Economic change and policy development has meant that it’s had to move with the times. Technology, domestic and cultural change has also had a huge impact on how law works, and tighter client budgets have meant that lawyers have had to keep up with the real world just to stand out.
A grassroots change has been in the works for years. The number of female law students at undergraduate and postgraduate level has been growing for years and has consistently outranked the cohorts of younger males entering the profession. Female trainees far surpass the number of males, and though they currently seem to drop off somewhere along the career ladder, the fact that there is increasing diversity entering the profession is a positive for the future.
A number of firms have also emerged with brilliant female representation. An example is Baker & McKenzie, the international giant who recently completed their board with equal members of men and women. And the smaller firms tend to perform better in creating equal working environments; Shrewsbury firm FBC Manby Bowdler is an example of great gender representation.
In the USA, a number of initiatives ensure that gender equality remains a focus for law firms. The Women in Law Empowerment Forum awards are industry-recognised and highly sought after; only given to firms who can show significant proportions of firm leadership places are filled by women. Whilst some could say that a need for the existence of such initiatives shows a gaping issue in the industry, the fact that they are effective and forward-pushing is a positive which should not be ignored.
This makes a stark contrast to other industries. Whilst law gets a bad rep for gender equality and traditionalism, it actually bodes very well in comparison to other industries. For example, only 3% of creative directors are female; an interesting statistic, considering how much more of an inclusive field creative are supposed to inhabit. Whilst it’s easy to blame ‘old-school’ industries for a lack of progression, it’s easy to sideline the fact that often, the opposite may be true.
Of course, just because a bad situation is worse elsewhere, the original issue is never any less important or in need of change. But change is happening, and ought to be celebrated. As another traditional industry bringing down the glass ceiling, the law inches the UK a little closer to the equality centuries in the making.
This post was written by Anastasia Evans. She is a law graduate turned luxury PR turned writer with a love of travel, blogging and party planning. Find her on Twitter @anastasiae_