A new study of law firms has revealed progress on diversity and a complex picture of the intersectionality of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and how identity affects pay.
The study by the InterLaw Diversity Forum, published today (8 November), when put together with previous studies in 2012 and 2018, revealed that “over time people have indicated more positive experiences within the profession, which is terrific. Some of what is being done is working”.
Research lead Dr Lisa Webley also said social mobility was one area showing positive results.
Webley, head of Birmingham Law School, added there were still some marked differences between the experiences of different groups, however.
The study revealed that men from an Asian background headed up the City law firms’ pay league table, closely followed by white men.
The top 10% of men of Asian ethnicity earned between £700,000 and £1m a year, according to the report, while the top 10% of white men took home between £600,000 and £700,000.
Meanwhile, the leading 10% of white women earned between £200,000 and £300,000, while the earnings for the top 10% of Asian women and black men are between £200,000 and £300,000.
This report is a call for the legal sector to move away from jazz-hands diversity aimed at public perception and brand towards meaningful work” – Daniel Winterfeldt, founder, InterLaw Diversity Forum
Black women took home the least, with the top 10% on salaries or drawings of between £50,000 and £100,000.
Patti Kachidza, senior technology and finance lawyer at Axiom Global and deputy chair of InterLaw Diversity Forum, said in a panel discussion around the findings that “the issue of compensation really speaks to how people feel valued within their organisation.
“You find there’s someone from an ethnic minority background who does great work but they’re seen as not suitable to put in front of the client. But firms want their intellectual input. Firms need to critique their compensation culture and pay gap.”
Webley added that firms should “publish openly; data and transparency is critical. Don’t have great policies on the shelf… actually make them work on the ground”.
Sexual orientation and gender were also key indicators of earnings. The top 10% of gay men earned half that of their heterosexual male counterparts. By contrast, the top 10% of lesbian lawyers earned between £200,000 and £300,000, compared with between £100,000 and £200,000 for straight women lawyers.
Gay men and lesbian lawyers were also more likely than straight individuals to suggest that their workplace was free from bullying and unconscious bias. They were, however, less likely to suggest that their work was free from discrimination.
Lesbian lawyers were the least satisfied group with their workplace culture and climate, while bisexual lawyers reported the lowest levels of job security and least positive responses to experiences of unconscious bias, bullying and discrimination.
Lawyers with disabilities were consistently disadvantaged across all areas of their careers, the report found.
Quoted in The Times, Daniel Winterfeldt, the founder and chairman of the forum and general counsel at Jefferies, an investment bank, said: “This report is a call for the legal sector to move away from jazz-hands diversity aimed at public perception and brand towards meaningful work that positively impacts the recruitment, retention and promotion of the best talent, including those from diverse and socially mobile backgrounds.”
In the panel discussion Winterfeldt added: “What has come out very strongly in this report is an emerging area of socio-demographic capital which include gender, race sex orientation and disability.” These were important factors when it came to upward mobility in the legal field, he said.
Webley said certain elements of intersectionality – bundles of characteristics – helped people to advance, whereas other elements held them back within the sphere of the workplace. But importantly, she said, “It’s not linear, it’s not a case of the more diverse you are the harder it is [ie the more you divulge from the a traditional view of a lawyer].”
There were still some marked difference between different groups, however. The experiences of white people and of men and non-disabled people were unmistakably more positive, though sexual orientation “was different and non-linear”.
Webley added: “We are seeing a move away from people who have been to fee-paying schools and more people from families where they were the first to go to university. Social mobility is on the move in a positive way.”
There was a fairly consistent racial effect and gender effect picked up in the report. But, said Webley “this doesn’t help us understand the differences within these groups”. She said women from ethnic minorities had often been educated in elite universities but went to state schools. They had been picked up by companies very keen to recruit them but once in those companies they were more likely to report they had encountered difficulties.
However, people from more diverse backgrounds were more likely to join networks, which could help them in their career.
With sexual orientation the data was unpredictable, Webley said. Gay men and lesbian women had had better outcomes than straight colleagues in some instances, for example, they reported higher job security. They were also more likely to be part of a network. Lesbian women had relatively higher expectations of promotion than others but experienced less favourable work allocations than gay men and others in terms of the kind of work they get. Lesbian women were saying their experiences of discrimination is high; gay men not so – yet lesbian women had a greater sense of satisfaction at work.
The group with the most negative experiences were lawyers with disabilities. People with disabilities felt less secure and least valued of all the groups in the workplace and considered themselves less likely to be promoted than non-disabled people.
Webley said: “We’ve noted that intersectionality plays interesting roles. One simply can’t say that if you’re a female lesbian from an ethnic minority group you will be definitely be less regarded, with fewer promotion opportunities.”
A spokeswoman for the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said in response to the report that the organisation was “constantly striving to make sure the profession is more diverse and inclusive and to support our members”.
The Career Progression in the Legal Sector 2021 report, sponsored by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, collected data from almost 1,400 lawyers in 2018, and from more than 1,100 lawyers in 2020.
Among the respondents, 60% were women, more than 20% were from an ethnic minority background, more than 20% identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and 7% disclosed a disability.