Improving diversity in the solicitors’ profession

06/07/2018

In the June Gazette, Suzanne Carthy calls for significant cultural change to facilitate a new cohort of legal leaders.

Rhetoric and reality

Many firms adopt a familiar rhetoric when addressing gender equality, diversity, and inclusion: their employees are their most valuable asset, they are working hard to retain and promote female talent in their organisations, and some are even proud recipients of awards that recognise their diversity policies.

Despite these efforts, writes solicitor and Phd candidate Suzanne Carthy, women remain significantly under-represented in positions of seniority and partnership, highlighting a clear gap between the rhetoric and reality of inclusion and equality for women in the profession.

Statistical evidence and interview findings from a study on gender equality in the Irish solicitors’ profession offer an insight into the differential career trajectories of female solicitors. The statistics analysed for this study clearly demonstrate that, for women, gender and maternity are significant factors associated with career stalling and exit.

‘Agile’ working arrangements

Long hours are a defining feature of work in the solicitors’ profession, as are increasing and demanding targets for billable hours. The requirement to work long hours (defined in EU directive and by the International Labour Organisation as work in excess of 48 hours per week) is associated with work/life conflict. In this study – and in line with research in the US, Canada, and England and Wales – long hours are experienced as unsustainable and are implicated in many lawyers’ decisions to quit.

However, sometimes minor adjustments can have a profound effect in helping solicitors to balance their work and external commitments. One solicitor who participated in this study vividly described the importance of negotiating a small degree of flexibility in her schedule: “It was like a tyre that was so full of air that something was going to give. So, all you needed to do was release a little bit of pressure. That pressure could be relieved by just a Friday, a morning, an afternoon – otherwise it’s too intense to keep the show on the road.”

Writing in the June Gazette, Carthy shares both quantitative and qualitative analysis to make the case for reform and greater diversity at partnership level.

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