Sexual inequalities still prevalent in profession

A SURVEY of law firms shows that the long march towards sexual equality is still marked by “deplorable” attitudes and is moving at a snail's pace, according to the the Young Women Lawyers group.

Unequal pay, inadequate promotion, and an “astonishing” attitude to parental leave still hamper women and men's careers, is the group's analysis of the findings of its survey of the largest 200 law firms.

The group's chair, Clare McGlynn, has even questioned whether some practices that were exposed by the recent survey, Soliciting Equality, are lawful. “There is evidence of discrimination, and some firms may be unlawful, but it cannot be pinned down to individuals,” said McGlynn, a law lecturer at Newcastle University, who campaigns on behalf of women of less than 10 year's qualification in the legal profession.

“When we asked firms about parental leave, a period of leave open to either parent and additional to paternity and maternity leave, only 10 per cent of the largest 100 firms and eight per cent of the largest 200 firms offered it,” she said.

“There were comments such as: 'We don't know what it is', from personnel directors and senior partners. That is an astonishing response considering an EC Directive has been adopted on this, which firms with offices in Europe will have to implement, and it may even become law here in the UK.”

Part-time work is more favoured by the larger firms, but one firm said men would not be considered for part-time employment, and many said men had never requested it.

“Potentially that is sex discrimination. Men are excluded from part-time work, perhaps because it is seen as low status or tends not to be fee-earning,” said McGlynn.

Of all partners appointed within the year, only 27 per cent among the top 100 firms were women, a rise just of two per cent from 1995, according to the survey. Large firms were more likely to offer paternity leave, which was provided by 39 per cent of the top 100 firms and 30 per cent of the top 200 firms.

Women in large City firms were more likely to receive enhanced maternity pay, which was offered to 74 per cent of partners and 58 per cent of assistant solicitors in the largest 200 firms. In the largest 100 firms, the numbers increased to 84 per cent of partners and 74 per cent of assistant solicitors.