The glass ceiling: women make up half the UK's lawyers but only a quarter of partners in top firms

Suzie Neuwirth
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Almost as many women as men qualify as lawyers, but peter out further up the ladder (Source: Getty)

Women make up around half of all lawyers in the UK, but only a quarter of partners in large law firms are female, indicating that the glass ceiling is still very much in place.

A survey into diversity in the legal sector by the Solicitors Regulation Authority found that while 47 per cent of qualified lawyers are women, only a third of partners are female, falling to just 27 per cent of partners in large firms.

The regulator’s research also found that a disproportionate number of lawyers attended fee paying schools, making up 22 per cent of the industry’s workforce compared to seven per cent of the general population. This rises to 37 per cent for partners in large firms.

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Out of the 9,000 law firms surveyed in England and Wales with 170,000 people working in them, only two per cent of lawyers are black, but Asian groups were found to be over represented in the sector at 12 per cent.

And only three per cent of lawyers surveyed said they are disabled, compared to 10 per cent of working age adults in employment according to official figures.

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“Encouraging diversity in legal services is not about ticking boxes,” said Paul Philip, SRA’s chief executive.

“It is of course the right thing to do, but it also helps to make sure the sector is as competitive as possible. There should not be any barriers stopping the best people – whatever their background – thriving in law.

“Ultimately the evidence shows that diversity in the workplace can benefit the bottom line – there is a diversity dividend. Some law firms are doing some really positive things to tackle the problem and change the culture, but this research shows that there is still some way to go.”

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