Disappointing new diversity stats reveal that gender equality at the bar ‘remains an issue’
The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) annual diversity report has revealed that it will take over 50 years for gender parity among silks to be achieved.
The damning statistics reveal that just over one third (37%) of practising barristers across England and Wales are women, equating to an increase of just over 0.6% during the last year. Men, continuing to dominate the profession, make up 63% of those currently donning the horsehair and gown.
Further up the ladder, the picture is even bleaker. According to the data — which looked at over 16,000 barristers — just 14% of QCs are women, while men account for a whopping 86%. The BSB claims that, at the current rate of change, it will take “over 50 years for women to make up 50% of QCs”.
Away from the upper echelons of the bar and despite this male dominance at top, female pupils outnumber male ones. Fifty-one percent of trainee barristers are female which, the report states, is “roughly in line” with the population of England and Wales.
The over-representation of barristers who attended “fee-paying schools” continues to be bugbear for the bar. Of the some 4,000 barristers who responded to this question, 11% revealed they had been privately educated, compared to 7% of the population as a whole.
Finally, the BSB figures show that just 12% of barristers are from black minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. With this figure dropping to 6% at silk level (which is actually a 0.1% rise on last year’s result), the report suggests that “this indicates an issue in relation to the progression of BME practitioners”. Reflecting on the report, BSB director of strategy and policy Ewen MacLeod said:
While the data shows an improvement in gender and ethnic diversity at the bar, especially at pupil stage, there is more that needs to be done to improve diversity within the profession. One of our three strategic aims is to improve diversity and to enhance equality in practice and culture at the bar.
Echoing MacLeod’s sentiments, chairman of the bar Andrew Langdon QC said:
One of the key challenges is to get women to stay in the profession for longer, widening the pool of talented women available so that more can apply for silk and judicial appointment. We also need to increase the number of BME barristers who become QCs and go to the bench, and to enable more state school students to join the profession. If we succeed, we will have a legal profession and judiciary that reflect the communities they serve.
Read the report in full:
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