Ontario Law Society Report on Gender and Racialization in Profession

The Law Society of Upper Canada commissioned a study by Michael Ornstein at York University’s Institute for Social Research, resulting in a report, Racialization and Gender of Lawyers in Ontario [PDF], presented to Convocation in April of this year. As expected — and, in my view, hoped — membership in the profession by visible minorities, Aboriginal people, and women is in fact growing. This growth has been dramatic in the case of women: in 1971 women accounted for 5% of the profession, whereas in 2006 they constituted almost 60%, as revealed in the chart below.

Click image to enlarge

There has been a very small increase in the number of Aboriginal lawyers, the rise from 0.6% to 1.0% occurring between 2001 and 2006. During the same period the number of visible minority lawyers increased from 9.2% of the pool to 11.5%, the effect of a steady increase among lawyers between 25 and 34 years of age: 1981 – 2% / 1986 – 3% / 1991 – 6% / 1996 – 11% / 2001 – 17% / 2006 – 20%.

To quote from the executive summary:

In Ontario in 2006, members of a visible minority accounted for 30.7 percent of all physicians, 31.7 percent of engineers, 17.6 percent of academics and 11.8 percent of high-level managers, compared to 11.5 percent of lawyers. This suggests that potential immigrants who are already lawyers in countries with dissimilar legal structures believe they will be unable to translate their skills in Canada as easily as other professionals. Even immigrants who come to Canada when they are young children are disadvantaged in pursuing a legal career.

The point about the difficulty that foreign-trained lawyers have entering the profession is no doubt true. But I wonder whether another factor is the relatively low status of the legal profession among certain immigrant groups, by comparison with, for instance, the practice of medicine.

To quote again from the executive summary:

In the last decade, gains in the representation of women are attributable largely to increased numbers of racialized women. Racialized women account for no less than 16 percent of all lawyers under 30, compared to just 5 percent of lawyers 30 and older; racialized men account for 7 percent of lawyers under 30, compared to 6 percent of lawyers 30 and older.

Again, one influencing factor might be the higher status of other professions and, hence, their attraction for favoured males.

The report contains careful and detailed analyses of the impact of gender and racialization on the earnings of lawyers. The oversimplified conclusions are that “Women and especially visible minority lawyers earn less than their White male counterparts.”

As a final note, I point out that Professor Ornstein makes extensive reference to the fact that this study was possible because of data available from the long form census. His report was written before Prime Minister Harper announced the end of the mandatory long form census.

[Hat tip: Off the Shelf]


  1. Thanks for your post Simon. I’m a visible minority trained as an engineer, and I know when I decided to pursue law I faced some social resistance.