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International Women’s Day: Male and female lawyers divided over profession’s gender equality progress

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Law Society plans 100 roundtables as female lawyers’ centenary fast approaches

There is a large gap between male and female lawyers’ perceptions of gender equality progress within the legal profession, new research has revealed.

The findings, compiled by the Law Society of England and Wales, show nearly three quarters (74%) of male solicitors believe there has been progress on gender equality within the legal profession over the past five years. This is compared to just 48% of women lawyers — a statistic that got a laugh when Christina Blacklaws, the Law Society Vice President, unveiled the research at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum this morning.

The global survey — which has been released by Chancery Lane bigwigs to mark International Women’s Day — garnered responses from 7,781 lawyers, including 5,758 women, 554 men, 20 other and 1,449 unknown. The survey ran from November to the end of January.

Christina Blacklaws

Fifty-two percent of respondents believe unconscious bias was the main barrier preventing women from reaching senior positions within the legal profession. Despite this, just 11% reported unconscious bias training being consistently carried out in their organisation.

Other contributing factors cited in the survey were the poor work/life balance required to reach senior roles (49%), male-orientated networks/routes to promotion (46%), and current resistance to flexible working practices (41%). These factors see women “voting with their feet” (Blacklaws’ words) and leaving the organisation before they reach the top ranks.

Elsewhere in the report, 91% of lawyers suggested flexible working was critical to improving gender balance, however just over half (52%) said they worked in an organisation where it was being implemented. Meanwhile, 60% reported they were aware of a gender pay gap within their organisation, but only 16% said visible steps were being taken to address this.

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So how can firms improve gender diversity among their upper ranks? Solutions name-checked by survey participants include: greater access to flexible working, increased networking opportunities, mentoring and sponsorship, and engaging men in the equality debate.

Blacklaws, who was introduced by Baroness Deech at today’s event, said: “While more and more women are becoming lawyers, this shift is not yet reflected at more senior levels in the profession. Our survey and a wider programme of work during my presidency in 2018-19 seek to understand progress, barriers and support remedies.”

On this programme of work, Blacklaws says the Law Society is keen to focus on the profession’s gender imbalance this year and next year, 2019 being 100 years since women were able to legally practise law. Looking forward, the hope is to focus on more qualitative research, hosting 100 roundtables over the summer (a nod to the centenary). The Law Society will also produce a “toolkit”, to encourage and support women to go out into their firms and be activists by “shining a light” on their business’ high-achieving female lawyers. She continued:

“Every law firm, solicitor and client will benefit from greater equality in our places of work. I believe our justice system will also be stronger if the legal profession better reflects the values we uphold.”

The release of Law Society data is just one of many legal profession-driven initiatives to take place on International Women’s Day. In other news, Linklaters has launched its HeForShe initiative, to accelerate progress towards gender equality by engaging with and empowering men.

Hip human rights set Doughty Street has also put its International Women’s Day stake in the ground. This is with its #RenameTheStreets campaign, which seeks to reimagine London streets named after famous men as if they were named after famous women.

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16 Comments

Just Anonymous

Show me a lawyer who has behaved inappropriately (by preferring a male candidate merely for being male, for example) and I will agree s/he should be disciplined.

More generally, show me a genuinely sexist structure or practice in the legal profession, and I will agree it should be removed.

I am not interested in people’s subjective ‘feelings’ about equality.

Nor am I interested in tedious virtue signalling, which serves no practical purpose other than to declare to the world what a great individual/law firm/chambers you are.

Joseph Heller excellently scewered this sort of nonsense with Catch 22’s Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, and the lesson still rings true today.

(52)(5)

Anonymous

Milk and two sugars luv

(4)(6)

Anonymous

….but you should be interested in your spelling: skewer, not scewer my dear. Attention to detail et al.

(3)(14)

Barry G

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

(4)(1)

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

“Every law firm, solicitor and client will benefit from greater equality in our places of work.”

Everyone will benefit from having the best person for each particular role in that role, regardless of gender. Appointing a candidate because of their gender, at the expense of more able candidates of the opposite gender, in the name of achieving “equality”, is stupid and short-sighted. It will merely result in unsuitable candidates being over-promoted for the wrong reasons, causing resentment and lowering the standard of the legal services provided. Nobody wins from this.

(29)(4)

Barry G

It’s already happened with the judiciary. Young non-white female judge? Chances are she’s an idiot.

Who does that benefit? Not society, and not capable young non-white females.

(15)(20)

Learn

“Everyone will benefit from having the best person for each particular role in that role, regardless of gender. Appointing a candidate because of their gender, at the expense of more able candidates of the opposite gender, in the name of achieving “equality”, is stupid and short-sighted. It will merely result in unsuitable candidates being over-promoted for the wrong reasons, causing resentment and lowering the standard of the legal services provided. Nobody wins from this.”

If you refer back to what you quoted, “Every law firm, solicitor and client will benefit from greater equality in our places of work.”, I am not sure your comments are fair. It states in “our places of work” (workplaces generally) and not “in their place of work” (the individual law firm or business of the client). So the original quote is actually describing the by-product of what you aspire to. Combine the two and we have a fairer summary:

Every law firm, solicitor and client iwll benefit from greater quality in our places of work which shall happen once gender-bias and discrimination is defeated so that we have the best person for each particular role in that role,regardless of gender.

(2)(5)

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

“once gender-bias and discrimination is defeated”

This is totally unworkable because:
1. There is no objective standard for achieving this defeat. Today, we have SJWs complaining about “unconscious bias” because evidence of actual bias is so scarce. Someone, somewhere, will always find something to complain about, so how will you determine when bias and discrimination have been defeated?
2. The problem is not what will happen once we reach this gender-equal utopia. The problem is what is happening NOW. In the name of striving to reach that utopia, we have pressure groups lobbying for companies to hire candidates of one gender over the other gender, for no reason other than achieving “equality”. The ends do not justify the hiring practices.

(5)(0)

Old lag

The sense of excitement we are supposed to feel by having new “toolkits” to play with is purely synthetic. As everyone knows, the banal reality is that the paradox of a situation where women entering the profession are equal or even in the majority, yet senior positions are predominantly filled by men, will not change unless there is a radical change in the long hours culture of legal practice. Everything else is just window dressing.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Then we do have equality. Women who do not wish to work long hours are treated the same as men who do not wish to work long hours. Women who are prepared to hardly ever see their kids are treated the same as men who are prepared to hardly ever see their kids. Equal treatment is not the same thing as good treatment.

The fact that, as the article states 49% of women do not wish to work the hours required by senior roles maybe why there are fewer women in senior roles. Work / Life balance is not an exculsivley female thing. Lots of men would like it as well. If, to reach a senior role, whether a man or a woman you have to give it up, then that may not be a good thing for either gender. But it is an equal thing.

(22)(0)

Anonymous

On this delightful day, my female colleagues in Europe have been allowed to go home early. They worked until midday. Here’s the ‘kicker’, I am also a female, work for the same company and I am still at work. FML!!!

(5)(2)

Anon

Sounds like there’s some unconscious bias by the respondents!

(0)(0)

Curious passer-by

As a junior solicitor, middle class white women who went to private schools are very heavily represented in my firm. They probably constitute by far the biggest group in my intake. But they will moan and moan about how hard their lives have been because they are women. Even if you come from a very poor background and literally have gone to bed hungry as a child etc., a young lady who passed through St Pauls and holidayed on her dads ranch in Kenya will look you in the face and tell you that you how privileged your life has been because you are a man. It really is quite curious.

(14)(1)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

It’s possible for two sets of disadvantages to exist at once. In this instance, there is gender privilege that men enjoy, and there is also class privilege that the women you mention enjoy. This is why most credible feminists these days talk about ‘intersectionality’: it’s useless to just say “promote women” if nothing is done to also alleviate the problems experienced by gay/BAME/working class people. For one example, in Rini Eddo-Lodge’s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, she bonds with a woman who has also experienced sexism in her life, but finds that this same woman won’t accept that casual, possibly unconscious racism has negatively affected Eddo-Lodge’s life.

In this instance, your colleagues will be aware of the relative disadvantages they faced in their own lives because, compared to men from their own class, they do experience disadvantages – but because they aren’t class conscious enough to understand or empathise with the experiences of those outside of their social strata, they assume that working class men and women broadly have the same life choices and chances that they did.

This has been an issue since what we now call first wave feminism existed, and some (like the East London Federation of Suffragettes) were ahead of their time on this issue. Sadly, these days a lot of feminist discussion is useless Buzzfeed-tier ‘liberal feminism’. Fingers crossed this will change soon.

(8)(12)

Curious passer-by

What a well reasoned response. I don’t agree with it all, but I certainly took something new from what you wrote.

(3)(1)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

(3)(2)

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