Posted in Latest News on 19 Jul 2021
From the moment the coronavirus pandemic began affecting the UK workforce, the rate of homeworking productivity between women and men has been a strong topic of contention. As lockdown commenced, the government were quick to remind the public of the occupations that fell under the “key worker” category; an indication to those required to stay in work through lockdown. Official reports state that those ‘essential to the running of the justice system’ call into this category, paralegals through to barristers and prosecutors.
But what impact did homeworking have on the value and status of those in the legal sector? Our nation of proclaimed fairness and sexism-free practice has been thoroughly put to the test, throughout what has been a prolonged economic rollercoaster. We have been able to gain insight into the root causes of gender imbalances in the corporate world, with an interrogatory focus on how much domestic and caregiving roles still fall disproportionately on women.
Here at Douglas Scott, we are always seeking to gain actionable insight into any flaws in the legal sector, and further work together to develop change and overcome minority discrimination. We have gathered an array of internal and external data sets to unpack the stark contrasts between how women and men have responded to their homeworking experience through lockdown. We have extracted the richest, most relevant findings from our annual salary survey, a separate internal survey for expert opinions on the data, as well as having gathered information from varying internet sources. And as we continue in the nation’s roadmap to freedom, there are further discrepancies and contradictions between the reality of each genders’ post-lockdown career progression.
We pride ourselves on the growing number of respondents we attract each year to our salary survey and benefits bench marker. It is an important way for us to improve our industry knowledge and offer the correct services to our clients and candidates. Even amidst the most challenging year for us yet, we have pulled in responses from over 3000 legal professionals to help us gather important data. Interestingly, 65% of these respondents were women – suggesting that women have been keener to give feedback on their homeworking experiences. More so, 82% of female partners reported that their homeworking experience had more of a positive impact on their productivity, compared to just 75% of male partners. Having said this, overall feedback rates for employer support during lockdown was expectedly more negative than previous years. Figures reveal that 25% of female lawyers felt well supported by their employer, compared to that of 21% men. Similarly, 58% of female legal professionals demonstrated great positivity towards their firm’s services during lockdown, compared to 50% of male lawyers and just 33% of overall male respondents across all professions. Could this be a result of employers having assumed female employees were more in need of support than men over the past year? Or, merely because women are more likely to reach out and utilise the support services put in place by employers? We have come a long way in levelling out the playing field between women and men working in corporate fields, but we cannot dismiss the cultural possibility that women may have instinctively responded with more emotion and sensitivity than men.
Now we must consider the reasoning behind women’s soaring optimism towards homeworking… What exactly was it that drove women in the UK legal sector to have collectively enjoyed their lockdown experience, more than men?
Firstly, 21% of female lawyers believed that the impact homeworking would have on their career progression is positive, whereas only 16% of male lawyers agreed. However, our internal data suggests that other factors played a greater role. We sent a set of open and closed questions around our office of consultants, to gather expert opinions on why they thought female lawyers were more optimistic towards homeworking than men. An overwhelming 65% of respondents believed that the main reason was because they were able to spend more time caring for their children and family members. This can be supported by national statistics reporting that *% of caregivers in the UK are still women. On the other hand, 12% of our internal respondents believed that the reason was because women felt they could perform their job on a more level playing field during lockdown. This is, whilst 18% believed that the salary survey figures are more so due to “other reasons.” Some examples include; women possibly ‘feeling more valued and trusted’ in a homeworking setting, or ‘being able to work comfortably with no male gaze,’ and potentially ‘feeling more productive [in general] as they were in control of their own diary/time.’ In support of this, external sources have found that more women than men have requested flexible working since lockdown.
Our external data has been gathered from a number of UK newspaper outlets. For instance, Susanna Butter, Journalist at Evening Standard, reports that the pandemic has actually created ‘a new battle for equality’ in the UK. Following the shutdown of schools in April 2020 and the need for constant childcare at home, it cannot be denied that corporate workers have suffered reduced earnings and a ‘tidal wave of job losses’; particularly amongst women. Butler reflects on the history of female rights in her following statement, ‘what’s happening is now a massive threat to the progress that women have fought and struggled for over generations.’ But how much do Butter’s statements really apply to women in the legal sector – given that female lawyers have demonstrated a marked optimism towards the lasting effects of COVID-19 on the legal sector?
Most strikingly, female lawyers’ earnings have declined by 12.9% – nearly double that of what men have been subject to. The fact that female lawyers’ positive response rates soar consistently above those of their male counterparts towards homeworking, combined with the reality of their career having, in actuality, taken a negative hit from lockdown, suggests that women could still be being deceived in the corporate workforce.
It goes without saying that being out of office due to a global health crisis should not translate to a reduction in opportunities or a slower career path for one gender. So, why has our economy ultimately done just this and hindered female success in the legal sector, without women having responded with a marked bitterness or awareness? Even though our data does point to a certain improvement in career independence for women, it simultaneously seems to reinforce the self-doubt and fear of inferiority they still experience in the office. The reality is that the pandemic has unfortunately not resulted in an increase of career opportunities for women in law – despite what they may believe. According to *, the main way for us to eliminate this self-doubt in female legal professionals is by loudly addressing the issue of gender inequality in the legal sector, particularly to raise awareness at the management levels of legal firms. In turn, we can treat the gender discrimination of today at the core, so that younger generations can build a life that is much less anchored by traditional gender roles, and more so nurtured by equal possibilities within the corporate world.
How to act on fixing the corporate gender gap as a legal employer? Actively hire women and mentor them the same way you would men. This includes allowing for family-orientated flexibility and mobility in a field that continues to favour men. When the corporate world demands the same from women and men, the legal sector will automatically make more room for an equal share of domestic and childcare duties.
How to act on fixing the corporate gender gap as a legal employee? Research your prospective job description and public company information. You will get a good idea of any company’s general principles by delving into their online profiles. Staff reviews can also be a useful tool in deciding whether to opt for a job offer or not – be thorough and be vigilant!
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