Socialist lawyers issue open letter to legal profession over ‘startling’ gender pay gap

Socialist lawyers issue open letter to legal profession over 'startling' gender pay gap

The Socialist Lawyers Association of Ireland, a newly formed group, has issued an open letter in response to the release of gender pay gap figures in some of Ireland’s largest law firms, as reported in Irish Legal News earlier this month. We reproduce the letter below.

Matheson highlighted the impact of family leave on its figures, stating “Women were more likely to avail of family leave and therefore receive a pro rata bonus”. While on the surface this seems reasonable but if you scratch the veneer even a bit– Maternity leave is only available to women, there is no option to split maternity leave like our fellow European counterparts, and 26 weeks maternity benefit is all that is guaranteed. This is inadequate and does not allow for the needs of a young child and a person who has just given birth, it should be noted that the provisions for parental and paternity leave are improving are nothing short of disgraceful.

Women’s work is often less paid and undervalued, meaning that it is often the mum who is left to take the shorter work week, or the parental leave, or to stay at home for the sick days. Simply stating that “women are more likely to avail of family leave” is too simplistic a view. How has a better solution not been found? We are left to wonder is this due to the glass ceiling that is evident in the legal industry. There is a need in the societal and corporate structure that allows for a more flexible work week, and a non-sexist bonus structure.

McCann Fitzgerald and William Fry stated that the reason for the substantial difference is because women occupy a greater proportion of non-solicitor roles and therefore are ineligible for a bonus. The question needs to be asked; without the women in those “non solicitor roles” were would their fee earner/partner bonuses be? Who helped them earn those bonuses, without the assistants, paralegals, secretaries and receptionists, the backbone of the offices in this industry, would they have made the bonuses and would their productivity have been the same without them?

We think that we are all too ready to accept the excuses for thepay gap. That the basic reasoning is that women take the leave relating to children, or that women take the jobs that are not counted for bonuses, but who made these decisions? Who thought that the people that take the leave relating to family should be pro-rata, and that the bonuses should apply only to fee earners? There is a dearth of women at the upper echelons of these firms and it shows. The “old boys” club is still in action.

A quick google will let you know that that not only are female dominated fields paid less, this has happened in such professions as teaching and caring, where when it becomes a female dominated sector the perceived social value of the sector reduces, and as such the wages derived from jobs there are reduced. This report brings the unconscious biases such as maternal bias and gender bias into the spotlight. It can only be more difficult again, for those of us that belong to other categories on which unconscious biases work against, being a woman of colour, or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in the workplace will only increase the difficulties by a multiplier.

SLAI- Socialist Lawyers Association of Ireland are calling for a recognition of trade unions and believe that the way forward in this industry is to unionise. We are calling for a unionisation of legal workers so that the exploitation of the female workforce in “non-solicitors” or “Business support” roles are recognised for what they are, crucial to the proper development and maintenance of the sector. And while bonuses are dished out for those who are at the top, remember there is still very much a glass ceiling in place. We find this report embarrassing for our industry and damning to its core.

If the big firms don’t fix it, the women workers will.

Socialist Lawyers Association of Ireland

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