Minding the gap

There is now a legal obligation for businesses to publish data on their gender pay gaps, including high-profile law firms paying their (mainly male) partners infamously high salaries. So how are they measuring up?

  • Last updated Nov 7, 2018 3:32:52 PM
  • Emma Finamore
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Image by Josh Krohn, graphics by freepik

Sadly, the existence of a gender pay gap isn’t particularly newsworthy; most of us are aware that, for a variety of reasons, women are paid on average less than men. In April this year, it was revealed that almost eight in ten companies and public-sector bodies pay men more than women.

Finally, however, there’s some transparency. The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 apply to both private and voluntary-sector organisations with 250 or more employees, and all companies had to report by April 4, 2018. Initially, under the reporting rules, partners could be excluded because they are considered business owners rather than employees.

While Clifford Chance and Linklaters included partners in their reporting in March, other firms did not—this made comparison difficult, as including partners hugely increases a firm’s gender gap. But in June, all five Magic Circle firms were compelled to reveal publicly the full details of their gender pay gap, including partners, by the parliamentary committee investigating the effectiveness of this year’s new reporting requirements. The last to comply was Allen & Overy, which eventually published its figures in September—revealing a 39% gender pay gap, roughly in line with its competitors.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said at the time: “It will surprise no one that including partners in reporting reveals a wider gender pay gap. The picture wasn’t a pretty one, but the Big Four accountancy firms at least acknowledged the problem by including partner data, a social duty that somehow escaped, with some exceptions, the major law firms.

“It’s easy to talk the talk on diversity and inclusion, but if a business is dragging its feet on providing even basic information about its gender pay gap, then it begs the question of how seriously it takes its responsibilities to valuing all its staff and how dedicated it is to committing to promote female associates to partner level.

“In our inquiry we’ve been keen to examine issues around the compliance of businesses with reporting requirements on the gender pay gap, such as whether the regulations are properly capturing the salaries of staff, as well as exploring what steps companies are taking to address the pay gap. It is clear there are weaknesses in the reporting requirements [...] and we shall be looking at what recommendations we can make to ensure that businesses are taking their responsibilities on fair pay seriously.”

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee also published correspondence from the five Magic Circle law firms following their request for further details on the gender pay gaps, outlining the actions taken (or that are planned) to promote female associates to partner level.

Slaughter & May said:

“We have a three-pronged approach to gender balance in the partnership:

(i) Supporting the career development of women throughout the pipeline to partnership.

We are founding members of the 30% Club Professional Services Firms’ Initiative and participate in the 30% Club cross-company mentoring programme. We also participate in the Network for Knowledge initiative in the City of London and we run a Leadership Development programme for mid- to senior-level female associates in partnership with our European Network Firms.

We know this work is having an impact as over the past five years over half of the new female partners accessed these programmes. In addition, we offer targeted coaching for high-potential associates.

(ii) Ongoing dialogue across the whole firm.

We run ongoing face-to-face unconscious bias training and inclusive leadership training with our partners and senior leaders, as well as training for all employees to develop a shared language and understanding of the importance of Diversity & Inclusion to our continuing success.

We also run brainstorm sessions for male and female partners on increasing gender imbalance. In addition, our female partners host a series of events for all female associates and trainees to create an open forum to discuss being a female lawyer in the City and career ambitions. The events provide networking opportunities with female partners and peers, and a forum for honest dialogue.

Our Women’s Network aims to increase recognition and awareness of the career challenges faced by women, both at the firm and in professional services firms more generally. The Network’s Committee regularly organises events for networking and formal skills development.

(iii) Supporting working families.

We offer a competitive maternity and shared parental leave package, along with maternity and paternity coaching for all associates before and after they became parents. We have an active Parents’ Network that provides ongoing support, guidance and a buddy system, and is strongly supported by partners. We also offer a range of agile working opportunities.”

Linklaters said:

“Our view for a long time has been that we must move faster than legislation requires if we are to improve the gender balance within the Partnership and for women in senior positions.

That’s why we launched our Women’s Leadership Programme in 2012, set gender targets in 2014, aiming to achieve at least 30% new women partner elections each year, and to double the number of women on our governance and management committees to 30%.”

Freshfields said:

“Strategies to help women progress to partner level […] It is a priority of ours to continue our efforts on improving gender balance and we recognise there is still more to be done. Strategies we have in place include:

• Supporting women’s development and progression through opportunities such as our Global Sponsorship Programme (GSP). This provides sponsorship, coaching and tailored training opportunities for mid-level/senior women associates, aimed at retaining and developing our top talent and supporting them to progress to more senior roles at the firm/partnership. As an example, our 2018 counsel promotions were 45% female, and of those women promoted 67% had been part of our GSP.

• Senior sponsorship of gender diversity, for example with pipeline partners who help us to track and monitor the career progression of our female talent pipeline.

• Inclusive leadership training that is being rolled out across all practice groups, for Senior Directors, partners and counsel globally that includes tailored content around understanding unconscious bias and inclusive behaviours.

• Enhanced flexibility and agile working practices for the benefit of all at the firm.

• Our women’s networks engage in a range of activities, including mentoring, panel discussions and client events to support the development of women at the firm.”

Freshfields also outlined a number of measures aimed at helping women progress to Executive Committee or Board level.

Allen & Overy said:

“In 2016 we set a short-to-medium term target to have 30% of women in leadership positions at Allen & Overy. In 2017 we launched a new programme to support, mentor and coach partners with leadership ambitions. A stated aim of this programme is to increase female representation at the most senior level in the firm.

As of May 2018, 30% of our Executive Committee and 33% of the elected independent partner directors on our Board identify as female. In addition, 50% of our Risk Committee, 42% of our People & Performance Board, 32% of our Clients & Markets Group and 33% of the Equity Committee identify as female.”

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