IT IS no secret that the legal sector is male dominated at the senior end so it should come as no surprise that the seven firms that have published gender pay gap figures pay their male staff more on average than their female staff.

As required by Government legislation, the gender pay gap figures released by the firms compare the total amount paid to female and male staff of all levels and do not attempt to measure pay inequality.

Across the seven firms, women earn 25 per cent less than men on average while the median pay gap is 27%. Or, to put it another way, the average man’s pay packet is 36% higher than the average woman’s in Scotland’s largest law firms while a middle-earning man earns 38% more than a middle-earning woman.

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With the exception of Aberdein Considine the firms that have reported have excluded partner pay from their calculations, weakening the argument that the gap is created solely by the most senior roles traditionally being filled by men.

Including partners certainly makes a difference, with Aberdein Considine, which said it included them because it felt that was “in the spirit of the legislation”, posting by far the largest differential in average pay.

While at the smallest end of the spectrum Brodies pays its average male employees 15% more than its average female ones, the average man working at Aberdein Considine earns 79% more than the average woman.

That could explain why Anderson Strathern and Morton Fraser, which have both written extensively on the rules around gender pay reporting, have relied on the Government’s 250-employee threshold as a reason not to publish their own gaps at this stage.

The headcount at both firms exceeds 250 when partners are included, but sits at around the 230 mark when they are not.

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Regardless, what is clear from the figures is that while male dominance at the most senior end remains an issue, another factor is that support roles - which have long been deemed of low value by those running law firms - are to a large extent filled by women.

Indeed, this was exactly the reason Thorntons managing partner Craig Nicol gave for his firm paying women 30% less than men on average and mid-level male employees 59% more than mid-level female ones.

“The main two factors contributing to the overall mean gap in hourly pay is that 26 per cent of the most highly remunerated group are women and 87 per cent of colleagues in the lower pay quartile are women,” Mr Nicol said.

The picture was the same at the other firms that reported, with Burness Paull, whose mean and median pay gaps are 20% and 27% respectively, noting that women are disadvantaged because of the type of roles they fill at the firm.

In its gender pay report Burness Paull said that its pay gap “exists primarily because of the number of men and women within different roles in the firm”.

“We have more women than men in every quartile but this is particularly the case in the lower and lower-middle quartiles,” the report said.

“Our secretarial and business services roles, which are mostly found in the low-middle and lower quartiles, have a very high proportion of female employees.”

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At Shepherd & Wedderburn the mean and median figures are 20% and 33% per cent respectively while at Harper Macleod they are 20% and 24% and at Digby Brown 29% and 21%. All three firms gave the same reasons for the figures.

According to Digby Brown chief executive Fraser Oliver they “reflect the higher proportion of females we have in business services and support roles” while Shepherd & Wedderburn chief executive Stephen Gibb said the firm’s gaps are “largely due to the high percentage of female employees in management and support services roles within the firm”.

At Harper Macleod chief executive Martin Darroch said the firm’s figures “are considerably affected by the high number of females employed”, with the majority of those fulfilling support or business support roles.

Yet even within these lower levels women appear to be disadvantaged, with Brodies HR director Kirstie Maclennan noting that the most senior support roles tend to be held by men, meaning they not only earn more than their female colleagues but are entitled to larger bonuses too.

“The analysis of our figures shows that, proportionately, women hold fewer senior positions than men within the business support population of the firm,” she said.

“There are more men in senior support roles earning a higher salary and therefore a higher bonus amount, albeit based on the same percentage as all those eligible for the firm-wide bonus.”

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It appears that firms are focusing on recruiting at the senior end in a bid to improve their pay gaps. Indeed, Burness Paull managing partner Ian Wattie said the firm has “set an initial target of having 30% women in our partnership by 1 August 2020” while a spokesman for Anderson Strathern said the firm has “made a number of key senior appointments over the last 12 months that have helped to narrow the gap”.

But until they start valuing the contribution of support functions enough for those roles to be seen as attractive enough to be filled by men too, it may not have much of an effect.