You are here

Equality Act 'not enough' say women lawyers

5 October 2010

New provisions in the Equality Act give women lawyers badly needed tools to bridge the pay gap but more is needed to overcome a workplace culture that still represents a major obstacle to equality in practice.

“The new Act allows women to request relevant pay disclosure if they believe they are being paid less than their male counterparts and to take action to address unjustified differences,” said Christl Hughes, solicitor at Leicester-based Barlows and chair of the Association of Women Solicitors.

The route to redress will normally follow the firm’s ordinary grievance procedure, which usually involves a meeting with the line manager.

Most complaints tend to be resolved at this stage but in the few instances where a female employee is dissatisfied with the outcome she will need to consider whether she should take her case further to an employment tribunal.

But few are likely to take such a risk for fear of undermining their position, thus “perpetuating a vicious circle”, Hughes said.

“The Act is a major step forward but it is not enough; what we need is a culture change where we don’t even need to think in terms of the need for equality legislation.”

According to Hughes, the pay gap in the profession is only six per cent, but this doesn’t reflect regional disparities, or the fact that women drop out after ten years on average, and the type of work women end up doing. Taking all this into account the gap is 29 per cent, she said.

“There is still a high drop-out rate,” Hughes continued. “Some has to do with motherhood but a lot of women lawyers decide not to come back after giving birth because they didn’t like it in the workplace.”

Despite anti-bullying and equality legislation women still leave after about ten years because they feel they are not supported, according to Hughes.

“Some go part time but there is a feeling that because they’re not there they don’t count; there is still a perception that it’s not suitable in hard negotiation or litigation work,” she said.

As a result, women steer away from the “big gun areas” and end up in legal aid and other lower-paid work such as employment law and family law.

Categorised in:

Discrimination Expert witness Conveyancing