Research: 40% of female barristers say they have suffered harassment at work

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By Katie King on

The BSB will be writing to all chambers to help push for equality in the profession


The head of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) will be personally contacting every “multi-tenant chambers” in the country, after a survey of 1,333 female barristers threw up some pretty shocking results.

The survey — which was answered by close to a quarter of practising female barristers — asked participants about their experience of the BSB’s Equality Rules.

These rules were, in the words of BSB director general Dr Vanessa Davies, “intended in part to improve the retention of women at the bar” (though men still outnumber women two to one).

So what did the female barristers think of them? In many areas, the report was very positive: recruitment is “generally fair” with 77.3% of barristers agreeing or strongly agreeing that recruitment at their organisation or chambers was fair and only 6.1% disagreeing. Furthermore, equality policies are in place in the “vast majority” of chambers, with nearly 90% of respondents stating their chambers had an equality policy and fewer than 1% saying their organisation did not.

However, Davies admitted some of the findings in the report “are very disappointing”.

Less positive headline stats include “two in every five respondents said they had suffered harassment at the bar”, and “more than two in every five respondents stated they had experienced discrimination”.

The BSB has also pointed out that many women are reluctant to report unfair treatment they’ve experienced, and that in some instances the Equality Rules are not complied with and are poorly implemented.

This research has prompted Davies to commit to personally writing to chambers across the country to “seek their help” in improving Equality Rules compliance. She continued:

“We cannot tolerate a situation where women are treated unfairly in the workplace. Lack of diversity and discriminatory working culture and practices impair the bar’s ability to meet the needs of the public and could deter potentially great candidates from pursuing a career at the bar.”

The chairman of the bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said:

The BSB report provides some useful insights into the experiences of women at the Bar, over a period of change and challenge… Some of the experiences documented by the BSB are historic, but there is no room for complacency… It is a positive sign, however, that women now feel able to come forward with their experiences, and I believe that we are moving in the right direction.

However, Doerries was alert to the scale of the challenge remaining saying:

Although the position is changing for the better, women still account for a very small number of members of the senior judiciary, and they make up only 13% of all QCs. The judiciary and the legal profession from which it is drawn should reflect the communities they seek to serve, and that is why the Bar Council is committed to doing all it can to support women at the Bar at all stages in their professional careers at the Bar. We need to aim for a profession of all, and for all.