Equal Pay Day 2020: time for the legal profession to regroup
Equal Pay Day has never been more important for our profession, says Amandeep Khasriya
There is no doubt that this year’s Equal Pay Day (20 November) takes place in extraordinary circumstances, amid the covid-19 pandemic.
This iteration of the event comes at the most critical time for women’s equality since the symbolic day was first observed by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996.
The United Nations has already warned that covid-19 is rolling back progress on equality for women – and we are yet to see the full impact of this pandemic.
The legal industry needs to act fast to address the inequalities which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Over half of women in law are taking on more childcare responsibilities than their partners, with 73 per cent saying that the situation is hard to juggle.
Away from the legal profession, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that mothers are almost 50 per cent more likely to have lost their jobs than fathers during the pandemic.
It is critical that Equal Pay Day drives not just conversation about how women in law have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but action too.
This is particularly pertinent given the First 100 Years survey conducted this summer which found that 65 per cent of women expressed concern that the first lockdown exaggerated existing inequalities between men and women.
More than half voiced concerns that diversity initiatives would fall by the wayside as financial pressures grow post-crisis.
This is a business-critical issue. How can our profession address this?
It starts with putting the right structures in place to ensure that businesses value the different contributions women make.
When firms allow salary to be on the discussion agenda – as part of yearly appraisal processes, for example – women feel able to have conversations about remuneration and a discussion with managers to explore options.
Firms urgently need to show they are continuing to strengthen their policies and processes for recruitment, promotion, pay and bonuses.
In an environment where the contributions of women lawyers are identified and valued, we can expect the percentage of women at more senior levels to increase, thereby reducing the gender pay gap.
At Moore Barlow, for example, we recently celebrated a gender diversity milestone at leadership level.
Our equity partner female to male ratio now stands at 52 per cent and 48 per cent respectively.
Firms should also commit to starting a conversation within leadership teams about sponsorship to actively support more junior staff to progress in their careers.
For example, consider whether both male and female candidates are considered for every opportunity and source other candidates if not.
It can be helpful to establish a working group to ensure accountability within the business that regularly reports progress to the board or the partnership.
This is an effective way of maintaining momentum and ensuring transparency and accountability.
Other important areas where women are continually let down in the profession relate to workplace practice.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the uptake of flexible working and increased recognition of its benefits among leadership teams.
Remote working is not just for lockdown, yet we still face reluctance from some traditional lawyers in redefining work as something you do and not a place you go.
Firms still need to ensure they are implementing flexible and agile working and should include staff input on what would work for them.
They should also be taking this time to review policies on shared parental leave, maternity and paternity leave and supporting working carers.
Sustainable progress needs a social and workplace culture change, in which organisations support and promote policies that facilitate truly equal opportunities for women.
It is disappointing that businesses were not required to submit gender pay gap data this year.
When the chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that compulsory gender pay reporting would be suspended for the current year, businesses missed a vital opportunity for accountability and commitment to change.
It also gave the signal, if unintentionally, that this is not an urgent problem.
Equal Pay Day gives everyone in the legal industry the opportunity to regroup on this issue.
While it is important to raise awareness of these issues, it is even more important that the profession enacts real change.
Now is the time for progress, not regression; for action, not empty words.
Amandeep Khasriya is a senior associate at Moore Barlow