Women in law are earning less than their male counterparts, with a 34.4 per cent gap emerging in the latest reported figures. In terms of equal pay, this places women in law behind those in other Australian sectors, who on average are looking at a 24 per cent wage gap.
According to barrister Lee-May Saw, the latest light cast by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) on the legal industry is “somewhat disappointing”. Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, the president of the NSW Women Lawyers’ Association said the headway made in law over the past 12 months was minimal.
“There doesn’t appear to have been much shifting in terms of the gender pay gap for the legal profession overall,” Ms Saw said.
The Australian data is based on 2015 company reporting to the WGEA, which collated information provided by 67 different legal organisations.
While the records indicate women continue to be paid less than men, women also make up the majority of the national sample group of more than 28,000 legal services staff. Since 2014, the gender pay gap in law has inched closer by 1.2 per cent.
These results, viewed alongside the NSW Bar Association’s recent equitable briefing report, make a compelling case for employers to take meaningful action, Ms Saw suggested.
“At the bar there is a 38 per cent pay gap for women. It’s only with those platforms of transparency that there can be movement on issues such as the gender pay gap,” Ms Saw said.
“For both arms of the practising profession, solicitors and barristers, the requirements that the WGEA is targeting are quite important,” she said.
The WGEA awards eligible companies with a citation as part of its Employer of Choice scheme and oversees reporting requirements for firms and organisations with more than 100 staff under the Workplace Gender Equality Act. Ms Saw believes these measures allow for important monitoring; however she added that a more holistic approach to diversity and inclusion would see the pace of progress improve.
Australian employers should take cues from research in the US, which shows intersectional barriers can unfairly affect the pay scale of different employees, Ms Saw said. While gender is the first major factor blocking people from earning what they are really worth, cultural bias has a hand to play in gender inequities as well, she added.
“In the United States, the indications are that while there is a persistent gender pay gap for women from an Anglo-Saxon or white background, second to them there is still a greater pay gap for black men in America and last, down the bottom of the ranks, comes women from a minority background,” Ms Saw said.
“I would like to see a more rounded [approach] to aspects of diversity that draw on the intersectional aspects. I think that really will get things moving along much more quickly,” she said.
Ahead of Australia’s national Equal Pay Day, which this year falls on 8 September, global firm Ashurst announced managing partner Paul Jenkins as its WGEA pay equity ambassador. WGEA ambassadors make a pledge to commit to analysing internal data and employing measures to realise pay equity within their organisations.
“I am honoured to be a part of the essential work the agency does in addressing the gender pay gap in the wider business community,” Mr Jenkins said.
Ashurst is the only law firm to have consistently received a citation on the WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality list for the past 15 years.
The Lawyers Weekly Women In Law Awards will recognise the achievements of women who have challenged, influenced or changed the practice of law in Australia.
This year’s event will be held on 27 October at the Sofitel in Melbourne.
To learn more about the event, click here.