Research lays bare Bar’s gender and ethnicity pay gap

Neale: Bar needs to do more to combat discrimination

Female barristers and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are likely to earn less than male and White counterparts by every measure, new research has found.

This held true when looking at self-employed barristers, employed barristers, QCs, barristers based inside and outside London, barristers with similar years of call and those in the same areas of practice.

The research by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) said the differences in income by ethnicity “were less pronounced” than by gender.

There was a disparity even between barristers of similar experience and working in the same areas – the survey looked specifically at crime, family, personal injury and commercial & finance.

According to the analysis of 2018 income, differences were “particularly stark” when looking at gender and ethnicity together: female BAME barristers were the lowest-earning group and White men the highest.

There were also variations within the different groups of BAME barristers, with Black and Black British barristers earning less than Asian and Asian British barristers overall.

Black African and Asian Bangladeshi were particularly low-earning groups, with a median income band of £30-60,000, compared to £90-150,000 for White barristers.

The report said past BSB research indicated that the reasons for these disparities included favouritism around work allocation, and a drop-off in work allocated to women if they attempted to work flexibly to care for children or when they returned from maternity leave.

That research also identified that some female barristers thought they were expected to specialise in lower-earning, often publicly funded, areas of law more than male barristers.

Other BSB work has found BAME barristers more likely to be working at the employed Bar or as sole practitioners, “which may well impact on their earnings”, as well as issues again around work allocation.

Income for the purposes of the research was gross before tax and, for the self-employed, before their contribution to chambers.

More than a third (35%) of female barristers earned up to £60,000, compared to 22% of men. At the other end of the scale, men were more than twice as likely to earn £240-500,000, four times as likely to earn £500,000-£1m, and six times as likely to earn more than that.

It was a similar pattern when judged by ethnicity – 40% of the BAME Bar had an income of £60,000 or less, compared to 24% of White barristers – although the difference was not as high at the top end of the income scale, with White barristers being roughly twice as likely to be earning above £240,000 than BAME colleagues.

Put together, 45% of BAME female barristers earned up to £60,000, more than twice the 19% of White male barristers. Conversely, fewer than 5% of BAME female barristers earned £240,000 and over, as against 25% of White men.

Working outside London had more of an impact on women than BAME barristers.

BSB director general Mark Neale said: “The disparities underline why the BSB will continue to prioritise its work on diversity and challenge the Bar to do more and better in combatting discrimination affecting the progression of women and of barristers from BAME backgrounds.”

The research will prove part of the BSB’s evidence base to contribute to its policy work, including looking at issues around retention, discrimination, and work allocation. The regulator intends to repeat the analysis once it has income data for 2020 to review the impact of Covid-19.

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