Mason Hayes & Curran: In-house women lawyers back quotas to tackle workplace gender inequality

Vanessa Byrne

A majority of in-house women lawyers in Ireland believe that quotas are necessary to address gender inequalities in the workplace, according to research by Mason Hayes & Curran.

When don’t knows are excluded, 57 per cent of those surveyed by the firm supported the introduction of quotas to fix the problem, while 43 per cent disagreed.

The law firm has published the full results of its survey of over 100 in-house women lawyers in a report titled All’s Fair? Female In-House Counsel and Gender Parity.

Vanessa Byrne, partner at Mason Hayes & Curran, said: “Quotas can be controversial, particularly among high achievers who feel they may detract from pure merit based advancement.

“However the lack of momentum in achieving gender parity means the concept of gender quotas is gaining support among the legal profession.”

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the survey (65 per cent) said that less than 30 per cent of senior positions in their organisations were occupied by women, while 29 per cent said that the number was less than 10 per cent.

Two-thirds said that the gender pay gap was an issue in their industry and this was even more pronounced for respondents in the banking and financial services industries, where 76 per cent said it was in issue.

A majority (53 per cent) of those in banking and financial services said they believe they are being paid less than their equivalent male counterparts.

Ms Byrne said: “Paying men and women different amounts for the same role is illegal, but the fact that many respondents have the perception that they are being paid less than men in an equivalent role could be a strong indicator of broader inequality in the workplace.”

The energy sector is little better, with 75 per cent of respondents reporting that the gender pay gap is an issue and 50 per cent believing they are paid less than equivalent male employees.

Meanwhile, in the public sector, just 38 per cent of respondents say it is an issue while 24 per cent believe they are paid less than equivalent males.

Some 92 per cent of respondents supported the introduction of mandatory pay gap reporting in Ireland. Only 21 per cent reported that their organisations have carried out an analysis on their gender pay gap.

Ms Byrne concluded: “Figures from the Law Society of Ireland published in March confirmed what many of us have already observed. There are now more practicing female lawyers in Ireland than male.

“But 2017 figures, also from the Law Society showed that, on average, 67 per cent of partners at the top six law firms are men.

“Our survey of in-house counsel shows that this is a widespread issue which needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency. Greater transparency, measures to improve work-life balance, and indeed quotas are all measures which should be deployed in the battle against workplace gender inequality.”