Mind the pay gap

A survey shows that the further a lawyer diverges from the white male norm, the less they earn

The data is stark, the conclusions are damning and the message is clear – diversity is still a problem.

Although law firms appear to be making strides in terms of recruitment of more diverse candidates, a survey of almost 2,000 law professionals has given rise to what its authors describe as a “wake-up call” for the industry.

The “hard truth”, they say, is that the more an individual diverges from the white male norm, the less well-paid and less satisfied they are with their career progress.

The fact this inequality remains despite a 15-year period during which the majority of new entrants have been female, tells us that law firms’ diversity programmes are not cracking the ‘glass ceiling’.

The InterLaw Diversity Forum has 1,200 members and supporters from more than 70 firms. Forum founder, CMS head of international markets, and diversity and inclusion partner Daniel Winterfeldt says it is time to introduce targets and hit firms where it hurts – in the pocket.



Salaries provide the most obvious measure of career progress, and the findings are “depressingly familiar”, says Winterfeldt.

The top 10 per cent of white male lawyers earn a minimum of £200,000-£300,000, while the top 10 per cent of white women, Asian men and mixed race men all earn £100,000-£200,000 minimum.

As Winterfeldt told Lawyer2B’s sister magazine The Lawyer: “White male lawyers are making the most money and are happiest. Each time you add a layer that diverges further from this ‘norm’ it shows a disproportionate impact. So, white women are less happy and make less, black women less, and so on.

“Well over half the people recruited into the legal sector are women, yet there are a lot more men at the top making a lot more money, so the timetable of progression is a real problem. Maternity is a cop-out, an excuse. Many women don’t have children and families now share responsibility.

“If a guy went off to climb the Himalayas and came back after a year the reaction would be ‘Wow, a year in the mountains’, whereas if a woman is off on maternity leave it’s like a death,” he adds.

Winterfeldt echoes the findings on sexuality by suggesting that, although the small group of lesbians surveyed are older and therefore more senior than their straight female counterparts, homosexuals have to “overachieve” to progress (see box, below).

The report also describes disability having a negative impact on career development as “troubling”.

“What this report tells us,” says Winterfeldt, “is that it’s fine to have women as junior associates – the workhorses and the engine of the firm doing the grunt work – then cast them aside when it comes to moving up the chain.”

The feedback suggests women do a disproportionate amount of work at junior level that is not client-facing, so they do not make the same contacts.

The report adds: “The data suggests women are useful backroom workers whose career life is seen as inevitably truncated and so the majority effectively support the white male partnerships.”

Social mobility

It is still the case that lawyers are drawn disproportionately from private schools and/or Russell Group higher education institutions.

Black people – and particularly black men – are least likely to have benefited from an elite education. Although this reflects a societal issue, it means black men are fighting multiple prejudices in their careers.

The figures show not a single black male lawyer or legal professional surveyed attended a fee-paying school. Zero black female non-lawyers who were asked went to a top university, compared with 61 per cent of white male lawyers.

What can be done

“While firms are making progress at recruitment level, there’s not the change in culture when it comes to promotion and advancement” Winterfeldt states. “This report is a call to action. We need to be doing more to change the culture, managing practice and social mobility. In tough times, equality programmes are often where firms can make cost savings, but we’re saying now is the time to invest in this area.”

He will continue to push for financial incentives. “Firms only really look at hard numbers and these things don’t come into the bottom line. Until you bake them into the core of the firm you won’t see diversity in the senior ranks.”


Founded in March 2008, the InterLaw Diversity Forum brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) networks in law firms.

Until 2008 no London law firm had entered the Stonewall Work Equality Index’s Top 100 Employers for LGB Employees, placing the sector far behind its City peers. Since then the profession’s performance has improved to six law firms in the top 100 in 2012.

The latest forum survey shows that gay men and lesbians, or at least those who responded to the survey, are high achievers both in terms of education and career.

“It is a widely held belief that those who are set apart from dominant groups in professional settings have to work harder and demonstrate greater ability in order to progress in the same way as the dominant group,” the survey says. “This could lead the reader to infer that our sample of lesbian and gay men in the law are a group of over-achievers who through a combination of talent and drive have secured an elite university education and subsequently reached senior positions in the legal sector.”

But that is not the whole story. “We suspect that the group of lesbian and gay respondents to this survey is not fully representative of the whole community in the legal sector as so many LGBT people choose not to come out until they have reached a level of seniority that gives them comfort to do so.”