“Herd instinct” of barristers can help close gender pay gap

Mackinlay: Barristers will follow the lead of KCs

The “herd instinct” of barristers can be used to help allocate work fairly and close the gender pay gap in the profession as a result, a chambers director has suggested.

Meanwhile, the general counsel of Citibank has cited the use of executive scorecards as a way to improve gender diversity, so senior staff were “not simply being evaluated on how many billions they bring into the organisation”.

Will Mackinlay, chambers director of South Square Chambers, said three approaches could be used for “nudging” barristers towards fairer work allocation.

Speaking at a panel discussion this week entitled Tackling the Gender Pay Gap, organised by the Inns of Court Alliance for Women, Mr Mackinlay said chambers should provide decision makers with “digestible information”, such as Bar Council data on gender pay, and remind them of their legal duty under the Equality Act to allocate work fairly.

Barristers could also be shown that there are “influential people” in chambers who were already “doing things” about the issue. “If there is someone in chambers who is widely respected and seen to lead on the initiative, others will tend to follow.”

The third approach was circulating data in chambers showing that “most people are taking action to address the issue in hand”.

Mr Mackinlay went on: “If we share a chart showing that KCs regularly lead different juniors, it will encourage those who repeatedly lead the same juniors to expand their repertoire. The herd instinct is strong and this does work.”

Sharon Blackman, general counsel at Citibank, said use of an executive scorecard, which showed how the bank believed senior staff should approach their work beyond simply their economic goals, had made “quite an impact” in terms of gender diversity.

“The starting point must be a willingness to have a conversation about the issue at hand. If no conversation is happening, it is unlikely that there’s any change being driven.”

Ms Blackman said that after scorecards were pushed out to senior managers, it was “probably one of the first times I heard absolutely open conversations because now it hit the financial bottom line of our seniors. They weren’t simply being evaluated on how many billions they brought into the organisation”.

The focus on financial regulators on risk and controls also played into this. “One thing that was clearly identified was that a lack of diversity, in its broadest sense, played heavily into the risk decisions that organisations took and therefore it was quite important, for a host of reasons… that diversity is considered in all its aspects and in all the places where the bank operates.”

However, the challenge was “the lack of senior women”, despite good numbers entering at junior levels.

She warned: “If flexible working is labelled as a female point, you are losing the argument at the beginning of the conversation – it’s a family point, a wellbeing point.”

Ms Blackman said that when Citibank contracted with suppliers, including external law firms, they were asked to “value align” with the bank, which involves identifying “what they think is really important to reflect in their organisations”.

Law firms are asked to specify, in terms of diversity, both the lawyers they bring to a pitch and who they use for the work the bank gives them. This scrutiny of diversity extends to suppliers used by external law firms. “If you’re not value-aligning, that will cause us a problem,” she said.

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