News

‘Highest ever’ proportion of female QC appointments, yet research commissioned into why so few women apply

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73% of new silks are men

silks

One hundred and thirteen barristers have been named as new QCs today, and the hot topic on everyone’s lips is ‘how diverse are the appointments?’

The answer: a bit more than they usually are. This year’s round of appointments shows diversity in the upper echelons of the bar is improving, with the percentage of candidates from non-traditional backgrounds succeeding in their applications very much on the up.

Take applicants from black minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Of the 37 BME applicants who applied for silk status, 16 (43%) were successful. This is a big improvement on last year’s percentage (28%).

A similar trend can be traced when it comes to LGBT applicants. Eight of the nine (89%) applicants who declared they were a gay man, a gay woman or bisexual made silk, another big leap from last year’s 58%.

And then there’s gender diversity. According to Helen Pitcher — who chairs the panel responsible for selecting new silks — the proportion of female QCs is “at its highest level ever”. Thirty-one women applicants of the 56 (55%) who applied made silk, again an improvement on 2015-16’s 52% stat.

On the appointments, Lord Chancellor Elizabeth Truss had this to say:

I want us to tap into all the talents of our society and today’s appointments are a step in the right direction. The number of women and BME candidates applying and being successful is moving in the right direction.

But, while this all sounds very positive, ultimately just 27% of the new QC titles have gone to women. Pitcher herself is concerned by this, and revealed today:

We have commissioned research to see whether there are barriers which may deter well-qualified women from applying.

Though the profession will no doubt await this research with interest, today is a day for celebration, for those too who have been made honorary QCs. Of those five, law students may recognise Professor Graham Virgo — whose contract law bible is a reading list staple — and Professor John Finnis, an academic whose take on natural law will be familiar to jurisprudence buffs. Solicitor Marcia Willis-Stewart, Professor Surya Subedi and Professor Cheryl Thomas round off the fivesome.

A big congratulations to all those who have made QC.

Read the full list of appointees here:

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24 Comments

Anonymous

Really? The hot topic on everyone’s lips was ‘how diverse are the appointments?’

The first thing I look at is do I know any of them.

Like most people I don’t select Counsel based upon whether they have a penis or not, I go for the most experienced person within the allocated budget.

(28)(3)

Anonymous

Hear hear. This is another attempt by Katie to imply that the world is very sexist and rascist without any evidence – the article itself acknowledges that there was an increase in female appointees.

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Not Amused

Identity politics is a waste of time. It is, when analysed, actually based upon precisely the same flawed assumption as bigotry – i.e. that human beings are good or bad based upon some external feature.

People are only good or bad based upon their own, individual conduct.

We actually wear the wigs to supress our identity. I’m not keen to start undermining all that good work.

(10)(4)

Gus

I wear my underpants on the outside to supress my identity.

(3)(0)

Trumpenkrieg

[Insert sexist comment here]

(3)(0)

Trumpenkrieg

My comment was going to be “who cares?”

But suit yourself.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

👎🏻💩👌🏽🍆💦

(0)(1)

Bumblebee

Oh really? Fewer women than men apply for silk? Why could that be?

Hmm, I wonder if… possibly… just maybe… that might be because applicants need an exceptional practice to make silk, which in turn requires commitment, continuity and career-mindedness. I wonder which of the sexes, on average, takes longer and more frequent career breaks?

Actually, you know what, it’s probably roughly equal. Let’s assign the discrepancy to sexism.

(18)(7)

Just Anonymous

I have to object to this sloppy analysis that appointing a greater proportion of minority groups compared to the previous year is automatically an improvement.

in fact, it’s neither an improvement nor a ‘deprovement’.

The proper analysis, I suggest, is as follows: in any given year, a certain proportion of any given cohort (x%) will be objectively worthy of taking silk. The closer the actual proportion appointed is to x, the better. Of course, x will vary with each year’s cohort depending on the specific individuals applying, so comparing the actual proportions across different years is meaningless.

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Bumblebee

It’s not so much a sloppy analysis as it is a sloppy and unthinking starting position. The unevidenced and frankly wrong world-view held by the liberal elite is that every group, regardless of whether membership of that group depends on class, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, upbringing, income, Oxbridge-attendance or whatever else, is equally able and therefore equally entitled to positions of privilege.

Not Amused hits the nail on the head. Except where membership of a group itself requires proven aptitude (e.g. Oxbridge-attendance), such membership is irrelevant. People should be judged by their individual merits, not which group or groups they happen to be a member of.

(10)(2)

Exasperated

That’s a complete mischaracterisation of what you call “identity politics”. The point is this:

– IF we assume that there is no inherent reason why a woman, member of an ethnic minority or other group (call them members of group X) should be less able to perform task A,
– AND we find that in fact members of group X are underepresented amongst those who undertake task A.
– THEN that calls for an explanation, and absent any explanation the underrepresentation of members of group X amongst those performing task A *may* be evidence of discrimination against members of group X, particularly where task A is a desirable activity and group X is a group that has historically been discriminated against.

That is all it is about, fundamentally. It is not about suggesting that every person is equally capable of performing task A, regardless of educational aptitude or any other quality. It’s really not that difficult.

(7)(8)

Bumblebee

Respectfully, Exasperated, it clearly is ‘that difficult’ – at least for you. What I was saying was saying is that it’s not so much ‘sloppy analysis’ which is the problem, as it is the wrong starting point. Specifically, it is wrong to start any analysis by assuming that there is no inherent reason why two different groups should have equal aptitude. Rather, as Not Amused recognises, people should ignore group membership altogether and instead focus on individual differences.

You attempt to attack my argument by (i) uncritically adopting the starting assumption which I said was wrong and then (ii) running through the very analysis which I said wasn’t really the problem.

You then say ‘it is not about suggesting every person is equally capable’, again completely missing the point. I was criticising the idea, adopted by you and others, that GROUPS are equally capable.

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Exasperated

Okay. I may have misunderstood your point, so this is a genuine question.

Is it your position that certain groups, let’s use women as an example because that is the group featured in the article, are less capable when it comes to the skills required to be QCs (again using that example because it is in the article)?

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Bumblebee

If you were to replace the word ‘capable’ with ‘competitive’, and ‘skills’ with ‘requirements’, then yes. That is exactly my position.

The average woman in this country has roughly two children during the period that she would otherwise be competing in the labour market. She is also entitled to up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave per child. Obviously these figures might not necessarily reflect the position with regards to female barristers. For one, the number of children per woman varies wildly between different social classes, as well as between immigrant at non-immigrant communities. Also, statutory maternity leave clearly isn’t directly applicable to self-employed barristers. However, as a very rough, ‘back of the envelope’ calculation, one can assume that the average female barrister removes herself from the labour market for two years.

It is also important to consider WHEN the average woman removes herself from the labour market.

There is a very narrow window in which barristers tend to make the transition to the Inner Bar. Generally, it is between around 16-20 years call (although there are of course exceptions). Given the educational requirements, the youngest age at which someone can be called to the Bar tends to be around 22, and most are in the age bracket 22-26. Further, women’s fertility very quickly deteriorates beyond the age of 40 or so. In other words, female barristers who take maternity leave tend to do so before they are (or would otherwise be) ready to apply for silk.

Therefore, even the most basic and cursory of calculations leads to the following conclusion. On average, female barristers with the sufficient call to be made silk have 2 years’ less experience than their male counterparts. Furthermore, they are likely to have experienced far greater disruptions to their practice than their male counterparts.

Obviously this doesn’t mean any individual woman is necessarily less capable when it comes to the requirements necessary to make silk. Some women never have children, others are so stellar that they could have 10 children and still make the grade. However, it does mean that it is ridiculous to assume that, as a group, women must be equally qualified to take silk as men. This is why people should look to the individual, rather than constantly looking to group membership.

Maternity leave is just one factor to consider, but there are literally dozens of others.

(9)(2)

Exasperated

Right, we are talking past each other here. What you are talking about (women have kids) would fall under what I call “an explanation” in my earlier post. I don’t agree that it’s a very good explanation, but at least we are agreed that there is nothing inherent about women which makes them less able to take silk.

I don’t agree with you that we can look just at individuals. That would be fine if we knew that receruitment processes/advancement opportunities were operated completely meritocratically, but we know that they are not. We know, for example, that someone with a “black sounding” name is far less likely to be invited to interview than someone with a “white sounding” name with exactly the same CV. Since we know that there are these biases in the system which affect particular groups, don’t you think that it is necessary to look at groups as whole? Isn’t that the only way of identifying unconscious biases?

If you can explain away any difference in participation by reference to benign causes (again, I don’t agree with you that “women have children” is a sufficient explanation but that’s an argument for another day) then all well and good, but surely the easiest way to investigate whether or not a particular group faces discrimination is to start with assessment of how the group fares as a whole?

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Bumblebee

What you are talking about (women have kids) would fall under what I call “an explanation” in my earlier post. << Yes. I would call it an explanation too. One of myriad explanations which do, or at least might, partly account for the statistical pattern reported in the article.

I don’t agree that it’s a very good explanation << Group A takes, on average, two career-breaks, amounting to 24 months in total. Group B, on average does not. All other things being equal, this means members of Group B have completed 11% more hours and suffered significant less disruption to their practices after 18 years at the Bar. You don’t think that this is a good explanation for why members of Group B might be more inclined to apply for silk? Fine.

but at least we are agreed that there is nothing inherent about women which makes them less able to take silk << what? Are we? What do you mean by ‘inherent’? I think women are inherently less likely to take career breaks than men. I think men are ‘inherently’ more aggressive – something which can intimidate opponents, but antagonise judges. I think there are clear differences in the average performance of the sexes when it comes to hundreds of different intellectual tasks, many of which are relevant to one’s aptitude for the Bar.

In the overall, global sense, it is most unlikely that I agree men and women are equally ‘able to make silk’, regardless of what you mean by ‘inherent’. As to which of the two genders is ‘better’ – I don’t have a view. In fact, I don’t care. It means fuck all. Left-handed tennis players have an ‘inherent’ advantage over right-handed players, but the greatest players to have ever lived are all right-handed. Chinese people are ‘inherently’ shorter than Westerners, but the tallest person in the world until relatively recently was Chinese. Black people are ‘inherently’ more likely to succeed in rap music, but the best-selling rap artist of all time is white. Men are inherently more likely to enter fishing competitions, but most major fishing records are held by women. I find the obsession with group identity both distasteful and banal, and I wish you and others would stop thinking in those terms. Either way, however, I doubt very much that you and I ‘agree’.

I don’t agree with you that we can look just at individuals. That would be fine if we knew that receruitment processes/advancement opportunities were operated completely meritocratically, but we know that they are not. We know, for example, that someone with a “black sounding” name is far less likely to be invited to interview than someone with a “white sounding” name with exactly the same CV. << Respectfully, I’m not sure you ever properly think through what you’re saying. The reason those studies are so credible and informative are that they CONTROL FOR INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES – they artificially produce imaginary candidates with identical CVs. This is the very point I’m getting at; any accusation of sexism needs credible evidence. The research in this article is nowhere near as credible or informative, and taking policy positions based on it is utterly misguided.

Since we know that there are these biases in the system which affect particular groups, don’t you think that it is necessary to look at groups as whole? Isn’t that the only way of identifying unconscious biases? << I don’t have a problem with the research itself. I have a problem with the unthinking, uncritical approach with which people take that research and then use it to inform policy positions.

If you can explain away any difference in participation by reference to benign causes (again, I don’t agree with you that “women have children” is a sufficient explanation but that’s an argument for another day) then all well and good << I don’t think it’s ‘sufficient explanation’. In fact, I said there were ‘dozens’ of different causes and explanations.

but surely the easiest way to investigate whether or not a particular group faces discrimination is to start with assessment of how the group fares as a whole? << Again, I don’t object to the research itself. Rather, I object to the liberal media’s approach to group identity. I object to the politics of it all.

(Primitive) Feminist

If Katie marries, the first question I’ll be asking is if her family is diverse enough. 50% male sounds like textbook sexism

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Anon.

I think Katie writes articles using ‘buzz’ phrases without any real thought as to what she is saying and why. It is an immature writing style, but she may grow out of it.

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Anonymous

Probably coz everyone else is a tranny. Wigs and skirts but those Adams apples give em away

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Anonymous

Hate to be pedantic but its not true to say 113 barristers got silk . 6 are solicitor advocates

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LL and P

I’m a man and not a huge fan of modern feminists for a variety of reasons. However if my experience at social drinks events with middle aged to older male barristers is anything to go by, these guys are a disgrace and I perfectly understand why women struggle at the bar. The sexism and the horn on these chaps is horrendous, and sorry if this sounds sexist but they have no standards. Lets not pretend there is no problem at the senior end of the bar. On a personal level its very disappointing to see men you respect for their intellect and achievements behave like horny teenage losers.

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Anonimoose

Sounds like it’s taken you a while to realise what we ‘modern feminists’ have known for decades, mate. Thanks all the same, though.

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Anonymous

I bet if the majority of new silks are women then LC would be silent but because the majority are men, that somehow makes it sexist and needs changing! #feminism

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Ciaran Goggins

1. Subconscious phallocentric oppression of wimmin.
2. The patriarchy made me do it.
3. Teh menz are bad.

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