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Non-white, female lawyer at 11KBW says she’s ‘fed up’ with people doubting that she’s a barrister

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Harini Iyengar asked ‘Wow, are you actually a barrister?’ in Temple today

An experienced employment lawyer has made a series of tweets today about the subconscious bias she faces as a non-white, female barrister.

Harini Iyengar told her thousands of Twitter followers that she’d been stopped by the porters’ lodge in Temple by a man and woman canvassing for today’s City of London elections. However, when she told the canvassers that she’s a barrister, this happened:

11KBW tenant Iyengar, who said the canvasser was surprised a non-white woman was actually a real barrister, admitted things like this have been happening to her since she was called in 1999.

Speaking to Legal Cheek shortly after the tweets were made, Oxford-educated Iyengar provided some further information:

I tweeted about it because it’s a good illustration of what subconscious bias is. The canvassers were very courteous and chatted to me for a while about today’s City of London elections, before he asked me whether I was a barrister, I said yes, and then she found it difficult to believe that I really was. I explained that I was fed up of people doubting that I was a barrister, we discussed it politely, and she explained that she had been surprised and impressed that I actually was a real barrister.

In response to Iyengar’s tweets, Leisha Bond, a divorce specialist at St Phillips Chambers, revealed she too is used to being told she doesn’t look like a barrister. Sometimes, people even think she’s a receptionist.

Iyengar’s tweets this morning are not the only candid insight we’d had into her life. Last spring, she spoke at her former Oxford college about being groped by a senior professor there. Addressing the crowd at Brasenose College’s Graduate Students’ Dinner, she revealed the physical harassment had taken place at the same event two decades previously, and because of this “culture” she did not return to the elite university for 15 years after she graduated.

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75 Comments

Anonymous

This also happens to non-white males

Sums up the whole profession
Nothing new here

(55)(12)

Anonymous

Not only that but the two scenarios here are ridiculous:-

1. Complaining that a random member of the public was surprised she was a barrister when told. Yeah, the public are idiots and have weird preconceptions about law firms and lawyers anyway. Complain when a judge does it in court absolutely, but a random member of the public? Quit whining ffs.

2. Young looking make up addict who looked like a young make up addict receptionist was annoyed to be mistaken for a receptionist. Gee, try not looking like a receptionist then?

Some complaints are justified, these are not.

(48)(53)

Legal Receptionist

I wish people would stop using receptionist as an insult. A good receptionist will always have high standards of appearance as the face of their company. It doesn’t matter what your position is within a firm, your age, your race, your gender, if you look unprofessional you will be judged and your capabilities will be questioned! Companies have a dress code for a reason.

(27)(2)

Anonymous

The only people using it as an insult are the women that get mistaken for them.

The receptionists I encounter are usually younger, female, lots of makeup, but look very professional and I don’t criticise them at all.

If I see a young woman who looks exactly like that I don’t get why it’s an insult to assume she is a receptionist rather than a lawyer?

(3)(9)

Legal Receptionist

As you mentioned, a lot of receptionists are very professional, young females so they rightly shouldn’t be criticised but it’s insulting when people comment she ‘looks like a receptionist’ when someone doesn’t know how to dress appropriately for work rather than say for example she doesn’t look like she works for a law firm. Receptionists are by no means uneducated or inexperienced but as long as a woman looks appropriate for the workplace it would be insulting to assume she was a receptionist rather than a woman who has put a lot of time and effort into becoming a lawyer just because she’s young, female and well-presented.

Anonymous

A good receptionist is more valuable to a firm than most trainees will be!

(12)(6)

Ex CPS

Your response is typical. It does happen, all the dsmn time. When I used to wirk for the CPS I was alwas mistken for the defendant, defendants girl friend, clerk…you name it, because of the insidious prejudice of people. So she is entirely correct to complain….tosser!

(11)(6)

Travelling Gavel

It is a shame however that your education was also mistaken; seemingly for that of a suitably educated lawyer… ‘dsmn’, ‘wirk’, ‘girl friend’, and no space between a full stop and ‘tosser’, and the final one without capitalisation… where on earth did you school? Borstal?

(8)(3)

Larry

Her inability to spell, at least, adds some truth to her claims that she worked for the CPS..

Anonymous

oh give over! As women in a predominantly man led profession, we need to man up – this is not a good advertisement for us

(1)(8)

Anonymous

completely agree – I’m a female lawyer

(2)(0)

K

As long as we note that there seems to be no evidence that the female canvasser’s surprise was based on the barrister’s gender and/or perceived ethnicity. People often say ”wow, are you actually X” in situations when they have never met an X and are surprised and mildly happy or excited to have come into contact with one. But one can see why the barrister might have interpreted that as being the reason that response came from the female canvasser, given that the barrister may have experienced more overt insensitivity or worse in the past.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

The comments on this piece are going to be vile.

(55)(3)

Anonymous

getspopcorn.gif

(12)(0)

James QC

Yes but click the link to Leisha Bond’s twitter above – she does look like a receptionist. Nothing to do with her being a woman, everything to do with the heavy, poorly applied unprofessional makeup and fake eyelashes which appear in every single photo. How would you feel if she turned up as your barrister? It is about looking professional and appropriate which includes your hair and makeup.

(113)(36)

Anony Mouse

What an appalling thing to say. Her choice of make-up or the liberalism with which is it applied bears no relationship to her ability as an advocate. Should men without perfectly polish shoes, razor sharp creases down their trousers and anything but a perfectly controlled side parting be banned from the Bar too? Seems an awful lot of talent would be lost by you way of thinking James.

(38)(37)

Anonymous

I totally agree with Antony , you are allowed to be as you want to be that does not make you less that anybody. Wearing make up or not, good make up or not, that does not really matter if you are intelligent and able to do your job in a professional manner. James is ready to be a judge of a beauty pageant, it would be interesting to see a picture of james…I am expecting to be impressed.

(7)(5)

Anonymous

I bet James would also look like a receptionist if he had a lot of make-up on.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

You’re entirely missing the point. He is not saying that dressing in any manner or wearing any level of make-up (poorly applied or not) means you are any worse at your job.

However, like it not, there is a certain expected standard of dress and appearance for the legal profession. When you fall short of it people will often assume that you are a member of support staff and this will happen whether you are male or female and no matter your ethnicity.

Either way, I certainly don’t recall him suggesting that anyone should be banned from the bar due to appearance or penchant for heavy make-up.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

Although your observation is entirely accurate, brace yourself for being stoned by the Politically Correct Brigade and their internet lynch mob friends. Nothing personal, just a sign of the times we live in, you see.

(24)(12)

Anonymous

Me-ow! Kitty has claws.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

V true, she needs to go easy on the eye shadow if she wants to be taken seriously.

(5)(9)

Anonymous

Think you’re all being charitable in calling her a receptionist tbh.

This post has been moderated because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(6)(6)

Anonymous

Mmm – 5h!t Twitter profile and today’s pics will raise a few eyebrows. Chambers’ puff is a lot more subdued.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I understand that she is vexed but has she thought that maybe people are just in shock about someone being a barrister. It is quite a prestigious profession and even when people tell me I am still similar and ask whether they actually are because it is a hard profession to get in to.

No offence to her but it isn’t being racist it is just being interested and she is making a fuss over nothing.

(24)(12)

Anonymous

As an e’ment barrister she makes a living myopically focusing on race, gender and disability and views all treatment by anyone through this lens.

Interesting the issue for her isn’t that they fawn over the job title at all, she’s quite happy for people to do that.

(12)(7)

Anonymous

The people she was speaking to were canvassing in the Temple. They are aiming to speak o barristers for the common council election. They are there looking for barristers, knowing that the area is replete with them. Their surprise had nothing to do with coming across a random barrister.

(22)(3)

Anonymous

“Their surprise had nothing to do with coming across a random barrister.”

I can’t believe Professor X is posting on legalcheek. Can you search for everyone in Cerebro to identify all the racists? You have done? Marvellous.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Happens to white males as well. Its all about class. If you dont talk in a certain way, or have a particular type of suit, people will assume that you are not a lawyer

(18)(4)

Privately educated, middle class, white man

-‘Which case’?
-‘Smith v Khan’
-‘Paralegal’?
-‘Counsel’

(6)(4)

Bored

Who cares?

(2)(10)

Anonymous

Happens to white females also. I’m pretty sure male barristers rarely have people assume that they have a wheelie bag because they are an air steward.

Though I’ve seen worse things happen to black colleagues. I was once at an event where a white member of staff came up to us as we were chatting and informed her that she might like to join the rest of the waiting staff who were getting ready down the hall.

I await ten thousand comments from white men telling me that none of this happens.

(26)(2)

10,000 White Men

None of this happens

(20)(4)

Anonymous

Because men don’t use wheelie bags, because, well, they are men.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

pic or it never happened

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I have been to court precisely two times in my career to date. On both occasions I witnessed male barristers with wheelie bags.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

No you didn’t.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Why do barristers have wheelie bags?

(1)(0)

Not Amused

And to think they say that twitter is just for narcissists …

(6)(9)

Anonymous

Harini is always moaning about something. Some people are just never happy.

Sounds on the surface as more mock flattery than anything else – saying ‘wow what an impressive job you have’ in order to curry favour. But insults can be perceived every time anyone opens their mouth.

(6)(7)

Anonymous

Curry? – Racist.

(3)(0)

Lord Harley

With that shirt she definitely looks like a receptionist!

(4)(7)

Jones Day Partner

Our diversity numbers have been great recently. One of our lateral partner hires is really into black women.

(19)(7)

Anonymous

You literally did your undergrad at Oxford and the BCL, then went on to get pupillage and have a successful practice for 15 years…stop fucking moaning

(21)(14)

Anonymous

“You’ve worked hard and done well and you’re very smart, therefore you have no right to complain about any racist or sexist bias you may encounter.” Good comment bro

(27)(2)

Trumpenkrieg

Client to me in conf: ‘When is the barrister coming?’ Me:’I am your barrister’.Him :’oh I assumed u were the receptionist’

Sounds made up.

(5)(10)

Anonymous

Yeah, makes you wander why she never thought to introduce herself, pretty sure that is fairly basic client care.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

Can just imagine her and her client sat in a room, awkward turtles flying all over the place, until eventually the client can’t wait any longer and asks to see his lawyer.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

I’m of Indian origin and a female been at the Bar for over a decade and that’s never happened to me. Maybe it’s because she lacks gravitas rather than connected to her skin colour or gender

(19)(9)

Anonymous

They both sound v.silly with massive chips on both their shoulders.

And yes, Leisha Bond on her twitter account looks like a Z list participant of Geordie Shore.

If she fronts up looking like that in court or to a con it’s a wonder that she’s got any clients…

(18)(3)

Anonymous

Didn’t even have to look at the article to know who the author was going to be.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

I’m a barristers clerk and didn’t go to public school or university but at many events involving Chambers that I have worked for solicitors mistake me for a barrister rather than a clerk. I am always offended when this happens!

(15)(1)

Anonymous

I am a barrister and quite often get taken for a clerk. I always take it as a compliment as it means I’m not acting like a twat.

(10)(1)

Barrister

Or that you look 15, or that you have a trendy haircut.

(1)(0)

A barrister

Not fitting expectations of people is what I thrive on particularly if the unexpecting people ramble on about their achievements and then turn to you knowing that they don’t expect you to be a barrister.

We come in all shapes and sizes, use it to your advantage.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Twice in the past week I was asked what I do as a job. Twice came the follow up, ‘are you really a solicitor?’. I’m a white male and was wearing a suit! I struggle to see why people’s disbelief is so readily explained by unconscious bias.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Tinder doesn’t count.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

On the one hand BAME representatives ate complaining how hard it is to become a barrister. Then they are annoyed when someone is suprised they succeeded

(4)(4)

BAME!

🎼I wanna live for-ever!🎶

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.