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More businesses addressing the gender pay gap

By: Dominic Khedun, Legal, Risk & Compliance

There is a significant wage gap in the legal industry, despite improvements across the board. What does this mean for candidates?

The wage gap in the legal industry is significant.

There is no doubt that Australia is one of the most advanced countries in relation to gender equality. However, the pay gap between men and women tarnishes the nation's reputation.

Despite the fact that men and women share careers, responsibilities and goals, there has always been a skew towards males. As such, there has been a concerted effort in recent years to reverse this trend and allow women to receive the pay that they deserve.

In fact, according to new data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), businesses are starting this process in great numbers. The data incorporated information from around 11,000 businesses - the equivalent of 4 million employees, a third of the national workforce.

Pay gap analysis
As part of its 2015 report card, the agency assessed how many employers were conducting pay gap analyses within their own organisations and then making appropriate changes.

Based on its statistics, the number of organisations taking such initiatives grew 17.6 per cent in 2015. This calculated to more than 1,200 businesses. Additionally, of these organisations, more than half (51 per cent) addressed pay imbalances as a result of their analyses - up from 46 per cent in 2014.

According to the agency, the majority of businesses identified specific gender pay gaps, while others analysed remuneration decisions and pay equity metrics practices.

Acting Director Louise McSorley explained that the agency is pleased that more employers understand why it is important to eliminate pay gaps and urged more organisations to start this process.

"Gender pay gaps have been a dirty secret in Australian workplaces for too long. This is a promising result that also highlights there's more work to do," she said.

Of course, this is an issue that many industries, including the legal sector, must deal with if companies want to retain top talent moving forward.

Significant pay gap among lawyers
While it’s fair to say that this was a historically male-dominated industry, this certainly isn't the case today. In fact, according to the 2014 Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) study, 3.4 per cent of graduates in 2013 were females pursuing law. This compared to 2.4 per cent of males graduates embarking on the same career path.

As such, there are more females entering the legal industry today, highlighting the need to address the gender pay gap sooner rather than later.

The state of the industry
In late 2014, the WGEA published its Australia's gender equality scorecard and it didn't make for good reading if you're in the legal industry. Based on the scorecard's statistics, the pay gap in this particular industry is a massive 35.6 per cent - much higher than the national average. Only the finance industry (37.8 per cent) scored worse.

Managing partner at King & Wood Mallesons Sue Kench told the Australian Financial Review in a November 2014 article that women in the legal industry need to convey their skills more clearly and outline what they can offer.

"Women can be high performers. The challenge is, men think they are better than they are and women tend to underrate themselves. From a leader's perspective, I think women are underscoring themselves and I encourage them to put themselves forward . . . men will always put themselves forward, in some cases too early," she said.

The article also cited information from the NSW Law Society found that a female lawyer, on average, earns $29,000 less than her male counterpart.

While this is the case today, it is clear that more businesses are taking this subject seriously and the figures should begin to even out in the years to come.


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