The Glass Ceiling for BC Lawyers

  • December 01, 2017
  • Kathryn McCready and Nora Bergh

40 more years of inequality?

In July 2017, Law360 published their Glass Ceiling Report that surveyed 300 law firms in the US. The report concluded that progress to increase the number of women in law firms has been “incremental at best, especially at the partnership level.” Women made up 34.8% of all attorneys, and less than 20% of equity partners at the law firms surveyed. 

How does BC compare when it comes to retaining and promoting women lawyers?

The Justice Education Society (“JES”) has funding from the Status of Women Canada to examine and promote the retention and advancement of women lawyers in BC. As part of the Mapping Her Path project, the Society conducted a similar count of women in BC practice. JES examined the websites of law firms with 10 or more lawyers and conducted a gender-based count of the lawyers and partners.

Of course, the staff pages of websites are not always up to date, but this count provides a snapshot of how BC compares with the findings of the US Glass Ceiling Report.

The Mapping Her Path head count found that in BC, women made up 36.6% of all lawyers and 24.5% of partners. Since women have accounted for about 50% of all law graduates over the past decade, more than one-third of practising lawyers should
be women.

The Law Society of BC publishes information about the gender make-up of medium to large firms in BC, noting that 36.7% of practising lawyers at these firms are female. The Law Society does not currently record the gender ratio of partners.

In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada has been tracking the gender ratio of partners for the last eight years. In 2009, the first year of their count, the gender ratio of partners at Ontario firms was 81% male and 19% female. The most recent count was in 2016, where the ratio recorded was 76% male and 24% women partners. This suggests a rate of change of less than 1% per year. 

Law360 concluded in their Glass Ceiling Report that progress in retaining and advancing women in the practice of law was incremental at best. Here in BC, the ratio of women partners is almost identical to that of Ontario. And with a similar rate of change, it will take 40 years to break the glass ceiling and reach gender parity among partners at BC law firms. 

Mapping Her Path conducted a needs assessment that collected the views of 400 BC women lawyers. To learn more about their challenges, and how this project is working to make a difference, visit JusticeEducation.ca/programs/Mapping-Her-Path or contact Kathryn.McCready@JusticeEducation.ca.


Mapping Her Path is a Justice Education Society project that promotes the retention and advancement of women lawyers in BC. Kathryn McCready is the Project Coordinator and Nora Bergh is the Legal Content and Services Manager at Justice Education Society.