- Ashwinder Gill is a Senior Solicitor at ABV Solicitor’s specialising in Fraud and Complex Crime
The Law Society’s PC Holder’s Survey 2019 shows “a large gender pay gap exists among PC Holders”. The gender pay gap is an all too familiar and depressing theme. It has been over 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which enabled women to become lawyers for the first time – how can we have come so far and yet not far enough?
From 2017, it became mandatory for employers with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap data. This is a welcome legal requirement, as transparency and accountability are key factors to achieving progress. However, the 250-employee threshold for reporting is too high and does not capture a large number of firms. There is of course nothing stopping firms from voluntarily publishing this data, but many still choose not to do so.
Last year the Black Lives Matter movement gathered global momentum following the heart-breaking killing of George Floyd. It was painful to be confronted, yet again, by the reality of the world we still live in. However, important conversations were re-ignited about the examples of racism, discrimination and inequality that are still embedded into the fabric of our society. The topics of white privilege, white fragility and unconscious bias were being readily discussed in the mainstream media, along with the realisation that the fight for race equality is a collective cause and everyone (no matter their race) can play their part.
In 2020 the Law Society commissioned a report “Race for Inclusion: the experiences of Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic Solicitors”. The findings of the report indicated that the average salary for full-time white solicitors is “25% higher when compared to the salary of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic solicitors”. Furthermore, “Black African and Caribbean solicitors have the lowest levels of remuneration overall”. It is disheartening to see that in almost every age group and working level “white solicitors still receive a higher salary than Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic solicitors”. The ethnicity pay gap is therefore a very real and current issue, directly effecting our profession.
There is no legal requirement for firms to report their ethnicity pay data. The government ran a consultation for ethnicity pay reporting between 11th October 2018 – 11th January 2019, with the outcome yet to be published. It remains to be seen whether any mandatory requirements will follow. It appears as though, in the political arena, the ethnic pay gap agenda is not progressing in the same way that the gender pay gap agenda is.
The Race for Inclusion report highlighted a number of difficulties solicitors from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds face in their careers – there are too many to consider in one blog. However, a clear theme in the report was the negative impact on career progression and retention, notably “a greater proportion of white males remain in the same firm and sector, whereas Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic females are the group who are most likely to have moved firm or sector, with around half having done so within the six years from 2015 to 2020.” This ties in with the recurring theme in the report of not ‘fitting in’ to the culture, which was particularly evident higher up the career ladder.
Another central issue is the effect of micro-aggressions, exclusion and the experience of othering which “can be as hurtful and demoralising, especially if frequently encountered”. The report makes a strong case for the importance of shifting this culture, to allow for fairer workplace environments. Simply put, words and actions matter. Open discussions on these problems are key to improving understanding, which in turn will improve the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority ethnic solicitors. Diversity and inclusion must go hand in hand.
There is much to be done and much that can be done. We all know how 2020 played out, but surely 2021 has to be the year for hope, progress and change?
I believe there is a need to explore the intersection of race and gender and its impact on equal pay. Specific research into its bearing on solicitors who fall into both categories would shed light on the issue, improve understanding and help achieve progress. An intersectional approach to pay reporting would surely be more meaningful.
Inclusion Allies - the role of allies is crucial and I do not think change will come without allies. There is a need for change in everyday cultures and behaviours. A greater awareness of the dangers of falling into stereotypes and unconscious bias will serve to create a fairer society. The Law Society has published guidance on being an inclusion ally (3 minute read) and I would urge everyone to read it https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/ethnic-minority-lawyers/inclusion-allies .
Visibility – inspire those already in the profession, as well as those entering the profession. The need for role models has never been more important. Make your submissions to the “WICL Race Equality Committee: Women of Colour in Criminal Law – The WICL Directory”. The directory aims to shine a spotlight on incredible female criminal practitioners at all stages, from ethnically diverse backgrounds, inspire those coming into the profession, showcase role models for those moving to the next career stage, and create a digital network. So what are you waiting for? Make your submission by following this link (it won’t take long I promise) https://kncommunications.kingsleynapley.co.uk/s/5a5dbc41d3334bd48639cfef6e582ad3dccd412a
Mentoring – the power of mentoring should never be underestimated and is relevant at all stages of your career. WICL have a wonderful and empowering mentoring programme, for more information take a look here https://www.womenincriminallaw.com/mentoring
There is clearly an appetite and need for change. This topic is multi-faceted and cannot be addressed in its entirety in one blog, but it’s a start and that is something that we can all do – start the conversation, keep the momentum going and play our part in effecting change.