Intersectional law report highlights pay gaps

A new report on intersectionality in the legal profession suggests employee network groups are being used by disadvantaged lawyers to overcome bias in the system.

Women in Law


Black, Asian and minority ethnic women lawyers are more likely than other lawyers to join employee network groups and leverage them to overcome bias in the system, according to a new report.

The Career Progression in the Legal Sector report from the InterLaw Diversity Forum shows the impact of intersectionality, reflecting the combined impact of racial and gender inequities. It shows white lawyers have a more positive experience than BAME lawyers; men have a more positive experience than women; those with disabilities have a less positive experience than those without; but that data on the impact of sexual orientation is not linear. It also shows a move away from lawyers attending fee-paying schools, with more being from the first generation in their families to go to university and some of these moving into senior roles.

While differences in terms of career satisfaction, promotion, compensation and workload allocation are not huge between men and women, when added up they account for a significant difference in experience.

The differences in terms of race and ethnicity are more marked and there is an intersection with gender with white male lawyers more satisfied with their jobs and black women lawyers at the other end of the spectrum. Many BAME women attended comprehensive schools and went on to elite universities, but once employed by a law firm they are significantly less likely to feel, for instance, that they can progress based on merit.

The figures show the top 10% of Asian men earn between £700,000 and £1m, the top 10% of white men earn between £600,000 and £700,000, while the top 10% of white women earn between £200,000 and £300,000. Earnings for the top 10% of Asian women and black men are between £200,000 and £300,000. Black women earn the least, with the top 10% on salaries or drawings of between £50,000 to £100,000.

The data on sexual orientation is more complex. Some data shows straight people have a better experience in the legal profession, but it also shows they have better outcomes. Lesbian lawyers are more likely to be part of an employee network and to expect to be promoted, but feel they face a lot of discrimination and are unhappy with the work they are given, despite reporting more satisfaction. The figures also show that the top 10% of gay men earned half that of their straight male counterparts while 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.

Disabled lawyers are consistently disadvantaged, with female disabled lawyers being in a worse position than their male counterparts.

The report collected data from almost 1,400 lawyers in 2018, and from more than 1,100 lawyers in 2020.

Meanwhile, analysis of Office for National Statistics data by the Trades Union Congress shows a disparity in unemployment rates between workers from ethnic minorities and their white counterparts, with joblessness among black, Asian and ethnic minority groups at least 70% higher than for white workers in each of the last 20 years.

The TUC is calling on the government to introduce a range of measures including mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and making employers publish action plans to ensure fair wages for ethnic minority workers.

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