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Gender: How does NZ's legal profession compare?

22 July 2015

By Geoff Adlam

At the current rate of entries to and exits from the legal profession, women will outnumber men some time in 2018. Possibly sooner. Every year over 60% of new lawyers are female while 98% of lawyers who have been in practice for 41 years or more are male.

A mid-year check on gender shows that New Zealand's legal profession is certainly not unique in its make-up.

Interestingly, data from the 2013 Census shows that 47.7% of all employed people were women – extremely close to the proportion of women working as lawyers. What is at issue, of course, is the underrepresentation of women in senior legal roles and other institutional and occupational features which impact on retention and workplace flexibility. Women comprise almost 60% of employees in law firms but only 26% are partners or directors.

graph showing proportion of women in law firms

graph showing New Zealand based lawyers 

graph showing People employed by industry by gender 

Other New Zealand professions and occupations

New Zealand's legal profession, like many other professions and occupations, seems to be facing issues when it comes to gender.

Academic staff

Ministry of Education data shows that in 2013 women made up 49% of academic staff at public tertiary education providers, and 47% of full-time equivalent academic staff. In 2000 women made up 46% of academic staff.

Accountants

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand says women now account for 43% of full members in New Zealand. Like law, a higher proportion of women appear to be entering the profession, with 60% of New Zealand Provisional members female. Provisional members have completed prerequisite university studies and most are working while engaged in the three-year Chartered Accountants Programme.

CPA Australia was unable to give New Zealand figures. Globally, it said 47% of its members were women.

Architects

The New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) says that like law, architecture needs to make significant improvements in the opportunities for women in senior leadership. "This is happening, but it is slow". A challenge for architects which is not faced by lawyers is that it takes 3-5 years after graduation to obtain professional registration. "With a 5-year Bachelor and Masters degree programme, then followed up with another 3-5 years, registration is often not undertaken or our women choose other career paths."

At the end of January 2015 the NZIA had 1561 Architect members of whom 29% were female. Of graduate members, 40% were female, and 47% of student members were female. The NZIA says there were 670 NZIA practices of which 79 had a female principal (although there could be some non-registered female principals). Of the practices with female principals, 41 (52%) were one person practices. Three of the 79 practices had more than one female principal.

Dentists

The Dental Council says its latest finalised workforce report, for 2010/11, showed that 34.2% of dentists, 23% of dental technicians, 96.6% of dental therapists and 95.7% of dental hygienists were female.

Doctors

At the end of January 2015 the Medical Council of New Zealand had 14,855 doctors on the medical register of whom 43.2% (6,421) were female. The Council says 8,548 of those doctors held a vocational scope (effectively specialist registration) in at least one area of medicine. Of those, 37.4% were women.

Engineers

The Institute of Professional Engineers (IPENZ) has made the very low proportion of women in the profession a key focus. Its Women in Engineering Snapshot 2014 shows that just 14% of its membership is female. Recruitment is equally low, with 11% of those enrolled in a Diploma of Engineering female, and women making up 19% of those studying a Level 7 or 8 engineering degree. A participating employer programme is helping, with the 19 participating employers having hired 130 new graduates in the past year, of whom 35% are women. Of the engineers on the participating employers' governing boards, 6.8% are women.

Nurses

The Nursing Council's 2013 profile of the profession shows that 92.3% of the nursing workforce is female. The proportion of males is increasing and 36% of male nurses are aged under 40 compared with 28% of female nurses. The areas with the largest proportions of male nurses are Mental Health (community and inpatients).

Police

Statistics in the New Zealand Police Association's Police News (June 2015) show that 19.5% of the constabulary are female. Of the non-constabulary staff, 65.8% are women. Further up the ranks, 10.9% of Inspectors are female and 14.3% of superintendents.

Teachers

Data from the Ministry of Education shows that at April 2012, there were 36,885 teachers in State and State Integrated schools, of whom 75.7% were women. However, women made up just 48.6% of principals, but held 72.1% of senior management and 64.1% of middle management positions.

Industry employment

Data from our last census, in 2013, shows that across the legal services industry the gender imbalance goes the other way. Statistics New Zealand's ANZSIC 2006 classification brings together all workers in a particular industry. The legal services industry data excludes in-house lawyers and includes all barristers, lawyers in private practice, legal executives and other staff working in law firms.

graph showing People employed by industry by gender

New Zealand and the rest of the world

Comparing lawyers across countries is difficult given the different types of practice and regulatory/representative bodies. The data in the table below excludes barristers for the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It has been compiled from a variety of sources but is the latest available data.

graph showing practising lawyers by gender

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Last updated on the 22nd July 2015