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Starting gendered career pathways early? Differences between women and men students in optional module composition among UK law school undergraduates

ABSTRACT Women’s inequalities in the legal profession are an enduring concern. Women are over-represented in junior positions and under-represented in senior roles, especially in large corporate firms. This pattern is compounded for women from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds in comparison to both men of all ethnicities and white women. This is informed not by ability, but by masculinity-privileging working cultures and practices. Women legal academics are also under-represented in senior roles. However, less is understood about women law students’ experiences, particularly in the UK and in recent research. This article reports on a new project which explored undergraduate student allocation on module options at York Law School, University of York, UK. There were marked gender differences in student composition in just over half (36) of the 66 different optional modules between 2014 and 2022. Women were under-represented on modules relating to commercial, corporate and financial law and over-represented on modules relating to family, health, social welfare, gender and sexuality. While there are many possible causal factors, there is clear resonance with the literature on gender inequalities in the legal profession and legal academia. The curriculum and careers guidance implications are considered, and a research agenda proposed.

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