More than 60% of women lawyers feel their gender has prevented career progression

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But quotas aren’t the answer


Most female lawyers believe that their career progression has been hampered because of their gender, according to new research released today.

According to recruitment outfit Laurence Simons, a whopping 62% of women lawyers questioned felt their gender had hindered their progress at reaching the top positions within the legal profession.

In contrast, just 16% of men felt that their gender had acted as a barrier.

But of almost 140 lawyers questioned, almost half felt that quotas were not the answer.

Trumpeted by Proudman but slammed by Lord Justice Leveson, 47% of lawyers believe that quotas — whether enforced or voluntary — would be “ineffective” in addressing gender equality across the top City firms.

Instead, lawyers who were questioned suggested greater focus be placed upon flexible working arrangements, retention of top female legal talent and specifically tailored development programmes.

A further 19% of lawyers agreed that quotas would be effective in readdressing gender balance, but due to their “patronising”, “anti-meritocratic” and “discriminatory nature”, they should not be implemented.

A quarter of those questioned were in favour of enforced quotas.

However examining the attitudes of women and men separately, divisions in opinion begin to emerge.

While 42% of women lawyers questioned backed quotas to ensure gender balance at partnership level, just 16% of male lawyers agreed with them.

With the report suggesting it will take 64 years for genders to be equally represented at current rate of change, Clare Butler, global managing director at Laurence Simons, said:

Gender quotas are very much chicken before the egg and to truly solve the problem of gender equality in the legal industry we need to tackle the root causes of the issue, not just tinker with the results of a dysfunctional system. Key to overcoming the gender equality problem is setting up a forum in law firms, and amongst legal teams, where women feel comfortable discussing the attitudes and practices that might be holding them back. The women working in the UK profession are bright enough to be part of one of the best legal industries in the world, so let’s learn from their experiences and apply these to future generations and create environments women want to be a part of and excel in.

Further research undertaken by the recruitment specialist discovered that 21% of magic circle partners are women. This figure drops down to just 19% at silver circle level.



Childbirth is the most significant barrier to career progression for women, in addition to women being more likely to take a few years out to look after the kids than men.

The latter is a social factor and is not the fault of law firms. Firms may step up and help effect social change nonetheless. The decision to take a bit of time out to look after your young children should be less of a bar to career progression, whether it is men or women who choose to take such time off. Allowing flexible working removes the “you either work or stay at home” mentality and will make men more likely to consider reducing their working commitments, sharing the career-stalling burden between the sexes and ultimately reducing the negative impact of taking time off across, regardless of sex.

The former is a biological factor and must be addressed by firms. You would hope that this has already been dealt with – returning to the same job after a few months out shouldn’t be affecting your long-term prospects.



I agree with your diagnosis, but not the treatment. If flexible work systems were introduced then a lot of single people will game the system, disadvantaging parent lawyers. One must always remember that law firms exist to make profit, and that those who work the most often produce the most profit, and therefore are rewarded the most.



140 lawyers were questioned, if half were women to make a representative sample, then 44 women said gender had prevented career progression. There are however currently 15,716 practising Barristers and 5,545 female practising Barristers. There are in addition, 134,785 practising Solicitors, of which 65,147 are female Solicitors. Adding the two figures together we end up with a population of 150,501 “lawyers” of which 70,692 are women. Thus the more accurate representation of female lawyers is “0.062% of women lawyers feel their gender has prevented career progression”



I think it’s what they call “journalism”.


Not Amused

If there is an issue it is child care. But the answer to that is either for people to say that a gender division of labour is what they want or for men to take a more active role.

On that question the issue is not always so simple. Many women feel pressured in to being primary carer by other women – and guilt plays a huge part in this. Many other women feel unable to allow men to raise children. Our society currently has a problem of deeply ingrained sexism against active parenting by men. That also needs addressing.



The fact of the matter is that most men don’t want to be the primary caregiver when it comes to raising children, whereas more women do.

This has been the case since time immemorial, notwithstanding the current trend to view it as a societal problem to be ‘fixed’.

It is the very anatomical makeup of male and female biology, which predicates each sex’s respective societal positions.

Millions of years of evolution has crafted this and although we like to think we may have progressed into something more sophisticated in the last 50 years, the same base desires, instincts and biology still apply and will continue to do so!

‘Society’ didn’t spew this out by chance and the pertinent question is; just why are we so hell bent on bashing a round peg into a square hole at present?



Yes but biology can only take you so far.
Women may be more inclined to raising children, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be overruled by their own free will and desires! It is for those women, who would like to press on with a career while hubby stays home, that we do need to effect some change. It will benefit men too.

Does the lack of commenters here suggest a lack of LC female readership, or are men just more inclined to comment?



For “time immemorial” women weren’t treated as equal citizens in the eyes of the law. We’ve only ceased to be the property of our menfolk in the last hundred years, and it’s only been in the last generation or so that we’ve been able to benefit from formal equality in the eyes of the law. In the meantime, those that don’t fit the traditional roles have been ostracised and punished for their choices, and being a mummy lauded as the proper role for the ladies. But not all ladies enjoy looking after children anymore than all men seek to prioritise their career over their family. What you naively describe as the inevitable result of biology is the perfectly adaptable result of the fact those who have benefited from past structures seek to justify their position by parroting phrases to suggest their position is more than a very very limited point of view.



The issue with women is babies and the cost of maternity leave.

For a magic circle firm its can be factored into costs, for thousands of smaller firms it’s simply unaffordable and causes serious financial problems.

Interestingly I’ve found the most complaints about employing women come from other women. The secretaries and female partners of a firm I used to work for were very vocal in their opposition to a highly qualified, 30 year old, married but childless female solicitor because “she’s going to get pregnant soon probably and we can’t afford that or the disruption”.

I was incredulous.



It is easy enough to advertise flexible, remote and other options in the profession much lacking in spite of technological advancements. If the workload is high hire two people instead of one or let them work as self employed if overheads are an issue.


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