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The need for gender equity in the legal hemisphere



Over the years, we have made eminent progress in the way we perform our business activities. There was introduction of technology and other strategies which were brought to the table to increase the performance of an enterprise. However, one subject is often overlooked, which is, the question of gender equality. If we compare business functions to those of 20-30 years before, then definitely we have made progress. However, if we look at this situation, keeping in mind today’s perspective, then it can be established that businesses still have a long way to go.


The term gender discrimination is not new to us, but let us just make it clear that when a person is treated worse than their colleagues or job applicants due to their sex or gender, they face gender discrimination. One can face this issue throughout the entire employment process, from the job interview to the exit interview or even at their retirement. To get more clarity, one can include examples such as unfair treatment, earning low wages, being given fewer demanding assignments, and receiving less support from supervisors based on one’s gender, all of which are illegal practices.


Looking at the scenario from the legal industry’s point of view, the situation is not much different. Women here, still face barriers that have slowed their progression into leadership roles, making them fight for compensation equal to their male counterparts.

Let us look at this situation while understanding the case of the Indian legal sector.

An article released in 2016 highlighted that back then, India did not have any surveys regarding gender discrimination being conducted in the field of law. However, back then, a similar survey was released in Australia, which marked a clear disparity of gender appearance in Australia’s superior courts. Among the challenges faced by female legal practitioners, a few which the article spoke about were, the discrimination which female lawyers face during the entry course of their profession. Moreover, there lied a heavy remark that male colleagues used certain ‘bully tactics’ instead of arguing facts, as a resultant of gaining a strategic advantage in their case and career. Along with this, the pressure to maintain their personal as well as professional lifewas a sword hanging above their heads. It is true that even male counterparts can have their personal and work life being affected by their work, however the same creates more turmoil when considering a female employee. Women have also been a target of being under represented in the Bar Associations. The reason for this was stated as women used to take leaves, which could range from several days to months or weeks. The grounds for leave included a desire for a family. However, during such gap, many changes occurred in the profession, it could be change in the law, development in technology, or just losing touch with the professional networks. Even though these female employees had policies which safeguarded their employment, the loss of touch with their colleagues was often enough to make them leave the sector completely.


Moving on, towards the west, another survey from 2019 reported that women are nearly 50% of associates at the law firms throughout the United States. However, they are only 22.3% of partners and 19% of equity partners. This situation is mostly present throughout the globe. While women have been enrolling in law school more than before, still men lead when it comes to private practice, a prime reason why men account for 2/3rd of the attorneys in this sector.


In 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which regulates solicitors and more law firms in England and Wales, led a survey regarding the diversity in law firms. The findings revealed that there was a slow increase in diversity in law firms among lawyers since the previous survey which was held in 2019. This decline was observed across almost all categories. According to the survey, women made up 52/5 of law firms, up from 51% in 2019. On the contrary, men made up 46% of lawyers, down from 47% in 2019.

Along with all of this, the legal profession has some of the biggest gaps in salary between male and female employees, having no relation with their level of education or years of experience. This gender wage gap has been prominent across all levels of attorneys. Although women make up about one-quarter of the general counsel positions at Fortune 500 companies, they are paid less than men. Of these positions, men earned 17.5% more than their women counterparts, with men having an average salary that was 6.3% higher and bonuses 31% higher than women. Furthermore, the gender pay gap of equity partners has increased over the years. Therefore, even if women make it to this top level, they are likely to earn less than male equity partners. According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report, about 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunity, and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent a woman’s full economic participation. Moreover, in 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and in other 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work.


One can argue that organizations offer policy to safeguard the rights of women employees, and yes, the same is true, but this is where we introduce the concept of ‘glass ceiling’, another barrier for women lawyers. While we clearly understand what formal barriers are, women also continue to combat unspoken bias and unequal treatment once inside their firms. Glass ceiling can make women face sex-based prejudices, shortening their chances of success within the legal field, thereby limiting their opportunities to obtain a position within a legal profession. Women lawyers mostly face this when they are wishing to achieve any desired position in their career. This glass ceiling is also a prime reason why women might encounter themselves receiving less pay than their male counterparts. One of the reasons why this ceiling is not being broken or being decreased is because the number of qualified female attorneys keeps on decreasing, which as a result, is shrinking the pool of women available for partner positions.


To conclude, we can establish that over the past few years, efforts have been devoted to address the ongoing and ever-growing gender inequality in the legal profession, and while we address several other issues, be it technology adaptation, or market growth, we haven’t seen the issue of gender inequality as one central idea of restrain towards growth. Yes, it stands true that progress has been made in the determination of barriers and the proclamation of solutions, even the reports have been somewhat promising, however the ground report is still vulnerable. Regardless of the merit and the talent which female legal professionals possess, they do not reach the senior positions across the sector mainly due to discriminatory obstacles placed in their paths. The legal sector is changing, and we cannot afford such contradiction, therefore, it is time we raise general awareness around gender discrimination and stereotypes.

 

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