High profile junior barrister says boozey bonding blocks female influence — but figures suggest other causes may be to blame
Sexism row barrister Charlotte Proudman has blamed university drinking societies for the lack of women lawyers as she continues her journey from the family bar to becoming an established media commentator.
Despite women outnumbering men at trainee level — 42 out of 60 of the firms in the Legal Cheek Most List recruit more women graduates than men — Proudman reckons that it is a student culture of male-only boozey bonding that is limiting equality in the legal profession.
Writing in the Guardian today, she argues:
University-based drinking societies are the perfect training ground for young boys seeking entry to the old boys’ club. The existence of drinking societies is the antithesis of equality, and widening inclusion and access to Oxbridge. Women are locked out of them, and later effectively excluded from proportional representation in heavily male-skewed professions (law, politics, finance, etc), which are dominated by the elites that have been established at university.
Her words, which are part of a slightly rambling article headlined ‘Port and prejudice — drinking societies are the dark side of Oxbridge’, will surprise many for failing to acknowledge the very different gender diversity issues affecting the top of the legal profession and its junior ranks.
In contrast to the entry-level figures, in 48 out of our 60 law firms the percentage of partnership positions filled by women is less than 25%, with top chambers even more male dominated at QC level.
The cause of this is typically cited as being related to child-bearing, childcare and work-life balance areas not mentioned by Proudman. The young barrister, however, has addressed this point in recent previous Guardian articles in which she called for quotas to be brought in by firms and chambers.
Where 27 year-old Proudman, who is currently studying for a PhD at Cambridge while maintaining a tenancy at Mansfield Chambers, may have a point about the booze clubs is in relation to the junior bar — which is quite different to law firms when it comes to gender equality.
Of the 50 sets featured in the Legal Cheek Chambers Most List not a single chambers contains more female juniors than male juniors, with a mere five chambers surpassing the 40% women mark. At 14 out of 50 chambers women make up less than a quarter of junior barristers.
The Charlotte Proudman generation backs quotas, but Lord Justice Leveson says they are ‘demeaning’ [Legal Cheek]