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What the gender pay gap looks like at Australia’s biggest firms

New workplace data has revealed the gender pay gap at Australia’s largest legal workplaces. Here, Lawyers Weekly lists the firms with the best and worst gender salary divide.

user iconNaomi Neilson and Jerome Doraisamy 27 February 2024 Big Law
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For the first time, Australian workplaces with 100 or more employees have been required to publish the base salary and total remuneration median gender pay gap with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

A search of legal workplaces revealed that less than half of firms have a gender pay gap below the sector average of 16.7 per cent for median base salary and 17.5 per cent for median total remuneration.

What’s worse is that more than 50 percentage points separate the firm with the smallest pay gap from the one with the biggest.

 
 

WGEA also quizzed employers on their policy plans to reduce the pay gap, and while the majority of legal workplaces could at least tick off some policy inclusions – such as “achieve gender pay equality” – there were still several that could not.

Coleman Greig, which reported one of the biggest gaps, was among this group, as was Macpherson Kelley, McCabes Lawyers, Piper Alderman, and Carr & Co Divorce and Family Lawyers.

There were, however, some notable gaps in the data, with Lander & Rogers clarifying it included partner remuneration in its figures. Other firms varied between doing the same and leaving it out altogether.

Mid-tier firm Hicksons Lawyers boasted some of the best data, with a 0 per cent base salary and a 2 per cent total remuneration gap.

In a statement, the firm said its median base salary was sitting around the 7.1 per cent mark just three years ago.

Hicksons said this data, along with its even gender divide within the management levels, is a “testament to the firm’s promotion pathways, providing clarity of process, desired outcomes, and visibility of eligibility and selection criteria”.

Comparatively, QANTM Intellectual Property sits at the bottom, with a 50.1 per cent base salary and 50.1 per cent total remuneration gap.

Not so shy about its own poor results, Bartier Perry chief executive Riana Steyn acknowledged, “where we are is not good enough”.

Bartier Perry’s base salary and total remuneration gap sit at 50 per cent, despite its senior management positions being mostly held by female employees.

“As a firm, we are committed to continuous improvement and to achieving a better balance. We know we are better as a more diverse firm and better as a more equitable firm,” Ms Steyn said.

Looking across Coleman Greig, head of people and capability Trisha Scott said there is an equal number of categories where women are paid 10 per cent less than men and a number of categories where men are paid 10 per cent less than women.

Based on this, Ms Scott said the firm is “satisfied that no overall gender disparity exists within the firm”.

“We acknowledge the existence of the gender pay gap published by WGEA but do not believe it is reflective of a genuine pay disparity within the firm,” she said.

Some firms, like Colin Biggers & Paisley, were unable to be included because they either were not able to provide the data on time or the data provided was inaccurate.

Legal workplaces ‘committed’ to narrowing gender pay gap

Along with Hicksons, Sphere Legal, Holding Redlich, and Mason Black Lawyers all sit well below the legal sector average.

Above them, with figures suggesting women are earning more than their male counterparts, is Employsure with a -12.8 per cent base salary and a 0 per cent total remuneration gap. Pinsent Masons and Carter Newell follow closely behind with similar figures.

WGEA CEO Mary Wooldridge said all employers should be aiming for statistics below the 5 per cent mark if they want to demonstrate they have a focus on “identifying and addressing inequalities”.

Just above the 5 per cent aim – but still well below the sector average – are Gadens, Dentons, Gilchrist Connell, Hall & Wilcox, and Gilbert + Tobin, all with figures under 8 per cent.

Gadens CEO Terri Dennent said the firm is “proud” of its current programs and with the number of women in management levels.

“Gadens recognises our responsibility in this space and [is] committed to reducing the pay gap at our firm,” Ms Dennent said.

Gilbert + Tobin CEO Sam Nickless said the firm is “proud of the significant strides we’ve made” towards gender equality and remains committed to closing the gender pay gap.

“These results really highlight our commitment to creating a fair workplace for everyone, regardless of gender,” Mr Nickless said.

Sitting around the middle of the pack are major firms Allens, HWL Ebsworth, Mills Oakley, and Norton Rose Fulbright.

Alison Deitz, CEO of Norton Rose Fulbright, said she is “proud” of the work the firm has done to eliminate the gender pay gap and maintains it is “essential for the success of the firm”.

Maddocks CEO David Newman offered similar sentiments, noting that the firm is proud of the “substantial reduction” in its gap in the last financial year, and “while we are pleased with our progress, we acknowledge that to continue driving positive outcomes requires a constant focus and leadership commitment”.

On the other end of this group are K&L Gates, Thomson Geer, and Piper Alderman. None of the firms provided a statement to WGEA.

Herbert Smith Freehills, which also sits just below the sector average, with a 15.6 per cent total remuneration, said men and women are paid equally across the firm for doing equivalent jobs, but they are “not shying away from the fact we have more work to do”.

Firm Median base salary gap Median total remuneration gap
Employsure -12.8% 0%
Carter Newell -6.4% -6.4%
Pinsent Masons -3.6% -5.1%
Sphere Legal 1.2% 1.2%
Hicksons 0% 2.0%
Holding Redlich 2.1% 2.1%
Mason Black Lawyers 3.4% 4.2%
Gadens 7.0% 5.3%
Dentons 7.1% 7.1%
Blue Rock Law 7.4% 7%
Gilchrist Connell 7.9% 7.2%
Hall & Wilcox 7.9% 7.2%
Gilbert + Tobin 7.9% 9.2%
Queensland Law Society 8.0% 8.0%
Cooper Grace Ward 8.1% 8.6%
Moray & Agnew 8.2% 7.9%
Maddocks 8.9% 8.0%
College of Law 9.7% 12.3%
Allens 9.8% 9.8%
ALS NSW 9.9% 9.8%
HFW 9.7% 14.5%
HWL Ebsworth 11.1% 11.1%
Mills Oakley 11.6% 15.3%
Norton Rose Fulbright 11.7% 12.8%
Sparke Helmore 11.8% 11.8%
King & Wood Mallesons 11.8% 12.3%
Johnson Winter & Slattery 11.9% 12.1%
Law in Order 12.0% 9.8%
Ashurst 12.0% 13.6%
Baker McKenzie 12.7% 17.5%
K&L Gates 15.3% 15.3%
DLA Piper 15.3% 17.0%
Thomson Geer 16.1% 17.1%
TG Legal and Technology 16.1% 17.1%
Piper Alderman 16.4% 16.4%

Firms with ‘more work to do’

There were a similar number of firms sitting in this group, which includes those who sit just above the legal sector average through to those who came close to doubling that figure.

For some firms in this group, such as Clifford Chance, there was a big gap between the base salary and the total remuneration gaps.

For others, a decision on which figures to include separated it from the pack. Lander & Rogers’ employment statement acknowledged while it has “more work to do” towards narrowing its gap, it incorporated partner remuneration figures into the overall data.

While outside of the sector average, MinterEllison said its gender pay gap has “improved across the board” and, as such, they have reported the “lowest-ever average gender pay gap” for 2022–23.

While all genders performing in similar roles are paid in the same range, MinterEllison still acknowledged there was a “clear gender pay gap” when analysing the salaries of all women employees.

Clyde & Co, which reported an 18.6 per cent total remuneration gap, said there is “still work to be done”.

“We recognise so much more needs to be done across the industry, and as a firm, we will continue to act in accordance with our values to ensure we create and maintain a diverse and inclusive workplace,” the managing partner of its Australian arm, Rebecca Kelly, said.

Maurice Blackburn is at the higher end of this scale, with a 31.7 per cent base salary and a 41 per cent total remuneration gap.

In its statement, Maurice Blackburn said its main challenges are the disproportionate number of women in lower-paying roles and the under-representation of women in senior digital and technology roles.

“Despite the job classification structure helping to almost eliminate the gender pay gap between female and male lawyers, we are aware there is more work to do in narrowing the pay gap in our legal non-qualified, legal support and shared services classifications,” the firm said.

Slater & Gordon sits on the very edge of this group and the next, with just a few percentage points keeping it on the side.

The firm chalked this up to the demographics of its workplace, with women over-represented in the lowest-pay positions.

“We are determined to continue to identify and address the drivers of inequality in our organisation and in the legal profession,” retiring CEO John Somerville and incoming CEO Dina Tutungi said.

Firm Median base salary gap Median total remuneration gap
Clifford Chance 12.9% 25.7%
Herbert Smith Freehills 17.3% 15.6%
MinterEllison 18.1% 18.6%
Clyde & Co 18.6% 22,9%
Lawyers on Demand 20.2% 21.2%
Avant Law 20.2% 21.6%
ALS QLD 21.7% 19.9%
Russell Kennedy 21.8% 24.8%
Barry Nilsson 22.0% 21.6%
Corrs Chambers Westgarth 22.2% 19.0%
Cornwalls 23.6% 30.4%
McInnes Wilson 24.0% 28.3%
Law Society of NSW 24.2% 13.9%
Lander & Rogers 25.0% 25.0%
Best Wilson Buckley Family Law 25.5% 24.9%
SB Law 25.5% 24.9%
Thomson Reuters 25.5% 28.5%
Sciaccas Lawyers 25.5% 24.9%
Shine Lawyers 25.5% 24.9%
Carr & Co Divorce and Family 25.5% 24.9%
Australian Business Lawyers 28.7% 28.6%
Wotton + Kearney 30.0% 29.4%
HopgoodGanim Lawyers 30.8% 29.4%
Meridian Lawyers 31.0% 32.0%
Maurice Blackburn 31.7% 30.7%
Slater & Gordon 33.0% 31.30%
Turks Legal 34.9% 34.9%

Workplaces with an ‘acute’ gender pay gap problem

Along with QANTM Intellectual Property and Bartier Perry, Coleman Greig and Macpherson Kelley have some of the biggest base salary and total remuneration gender pay gaps.

Over at Macpherson Kelley, its employment statement explained that much like Lander & Rogers, its data can differ because it has included the salaries of its principal lawyers.

However, the firm acknowledged the data was still driven by a higher representation of men in more senior roles and a higher representation of women in lower-paid roles.

Macpherson Kelley added the pay gap reporting is “distinct from equal pay”, which it noted they regarded as an “important measure”.

“We are proud of our equal pay results that show this is well managed across all roles at Macpherson Kelley,” the statement, signed by managing principal lawyer Grant Guenther and chief people officer Olivia Holmes, read.

Coleman Greig’s Ms Scott said the firm has significantly more women than men in its support roles, “which skews the median for us”.

“Our firm constantly analyses our compensation practices and is committed to identifying and rectifying any disparities that may exist,” Ms Scott said.

“Ultimately, our goal is to create a workplace where everyone, regardless of gender, has an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive.”

Sitting below those firms but still well above the sector average are Griffith Hack, Spruson & Ferguson, and McCabes Lawyers.

Andrew Lacey, managing principal of McCabes Lawyers, said the gender pay gap is an issue the firm is “acutely aware of”.

“We are not alone in this endeavour; it is not an easy fix, and we still have a long way to go at McCabes and the industry in general, but we are committed to this,” Mr Lacey said.

Mr Lacey said 71.1 per cent of its new hires were women, and women accounted for 69.4 per cent of its promotions, but the median number of women employees hovers around the junior-level roles.

“Investing in our staff is a major focus of our firm, and this investment will see those junior staff members move into more senior roles in the coming years,” Mr Lacey said.

Firm Median base salary gap Median total remuneration gap
McCabes 36.6% 26.6%
Spruson & Ferguson 37.6% 26.6%
Macpherson Kelley 39.7% 41.0%
Griffith Hack 42.3% 45.2%
Coleman Greig 48.0% 47.9%
Bartier Perry 50.0% 50.0%
QANTM Intellectual Property 50.1% 50.1%