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Over half of female lawyers have experienced or witnessed sexism at work

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But 46% fail to report over fears it would negatively impact their careers, new research reveals

Over half of women in the legal profession say they or women they work with have been on the receiving end of sexist comments from male colleagues.

The survey of over 700 solicitors, barristers and other women working in the legal profession showed that while 58% had experienced or witnessed sexism first hand, almost half (46%) did not complain for fear of the impact on their careers.

The research, compiled by The First 100 Years project, a celebratory campaign to mark the year when women could first practise law, also found that 80% of female lawyers believe it will take 20 years or more to achieve equality, while 23% consider that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 100 years. Just 2% felt there was true equality in the legal profession, according to the findings.

Women respondents also expressed concerns about discrimination and the dominance of men across the upper ranks of the profession, with 52% agreeing that it is still easier for men in their organisations to achieve a promotion. Less than half of those surveyed said that women are fairly represented in the senior management of their organisation.

“Gender discrimination is rife,” one anonymous female partner told researchers. “The “boys’ network” remains in full force, excluding women from networking opportunities and bullying them so that they feel inadequate and incapable.”

“Partnership structures in law firms breed the boys’ club mentality,” another respondent added. “Earlier in my career I wanted to prove myself equal, better even, than the men. Now I look a few years ahead to partnership and realise I don’t want to be in a boys’ club even if they invite me in.”

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Commenting on the findings, Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The First 100 Years, said: “Many organisations in the legal world are succeeding in creating an acceptable working environment, in which discrimination and harassment are not tolerated and family friendly working patterns are at least a possibility.”

She continued:

“This is proof that it can be done, yet it is clear that 100 years after women were first permitted to practise, they are still being held back. In some cases, they are being treated unlawfully by their employers and many are leaving a profession that they feel does not work for them.”

Elsewhere in the research, over half of respondents (54%) said they receive encouragement from senior women in the workplace but that a failure of employers to accommodate the “realities of family life” continued to hold women back.

Twenty-eight percent of women surveyed claimed they have considered leaving their job due to a lack of flexible working, while 39% said their working hours were not compatible with family life. The majority of respondents (60%) believed that working part-time would impact on their career prospects.

Last year former magic circle lawyer Denis-Smith called for the introduction of quotas to help boost the number of women at the top of the profession amid growing frustration over the ineffectiveness of gender targets.

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54 Comments

Anonymous

Or so they say, in a self-reporting survey with an agenda.

Drederick Wormsley QC

I am a fox, I am in your mind
Smash me up and what will you find
Foxy foxy foxy foxy hit me with a bat
Bat bat bat bat bat bat bat bat
I am a fox and not a cat
Who would make such a silly mistake as that

Anonymous

Its sexist to refer to women as ‘foxes’ or ‘foxy’.

Anonymous

Event the foxy ones?

Anonymous

Especially those ones.

Anonymous

It’s sad that an event that purports to be celebratory continually focuses on negative comments about men rather than on the positive contributions of women to the legal profession.

Anonymous

Define sexist comments.

Are such comments both objectively and subjectively sexist, or are they only subjectively sexist? And are such comments, even if falling into the former, incontrovertibly sexist?

Australian barrister

Let me guess, you’re make, and “ it’s all a harmless bit of fun”.

Australian Banana

What’s make?

Anonymous

What did they say about the lack of gender equality in those studying and entering the legal profession?

Anonymous

A self-reporting self-defining “survey” produces a result that proves nothing. Saying that given how skewed it is 46% is probably a good reflection on the profession. In a world where talking about the VAR reviews in the Chelsea match is now considered sexist what it the point of this trash? Oh yes, it gives the SRA, the Bar Council etc a means of accepting and parroting out its contents to spew out more virtue signalling.

memyselfandI

Define sexist comment!

Does “Nice dress!” qualify or does it need “You must be the most attractive female lawyer in town!”?

I would laugh both off.

“Nice tits”, however, would at least get a (verbal) kick in the balls followed by reporting.

Anonymous

But if I say, “Your appearance is quite in order; certainly more than presentable for the purpose of this firm. I would like our lawyers to have a reasonably good physical shape, and a healthy body means a healthy mind, and a healthy firm… and I cannot possibly say anything otherwise about any single one of you without possibly doing all of you a great injustice”… would that also constitute harassment, or would that just a little too Jane Austen?!

memyselfandI

Very Jane Austen!
But I like a well-built man in a 3-piece-suit.

Anonymous

Perhaps a perfection in the physical form, more often than not, corresponds to a perfection in a person’s mind; and I would most certainly say that you have a perfect heart, in every sense of the word…

Anonymous

Perhaps a perfection in the physical form, more often than not, corresponds to a perfection in a person’s mind; and I would most certainly say that you have a perfect heart, in every sense of the word but most of all you have a great rack.

Anonymous

A mixture of “You are not getting the promotion this year, it is gone to [insert better performing male colleague].” and a list of minor quips carefully logged in a pocketbook is more than enough to bring a discrimination complaint these days. With the right Daily Mail coverage the complainant can expect a healthy cheque.

Barrister

It’s more likely to be “ worse performing”.

Anonymous

Why? There’s nothing to support that.

memyselfandI

TC? I’m not planning to start all over again.

Curious George

Well are they?

Wulfruna

A female going into an all male meeting and is asked if they have come for a ‘gang bang’. That would be sexist.

A female delegate on an all male course being hit on by a male delegate. That is harassment. It was reported however the male delegate was a top performer so went no further.

Being left a red rose on your birthday from a senior person in the organisation. Would have preferred not to receive it.

Compliments such as ‘you look nice’ are not generally not sexist.

Wulfruna

I meant to say, compliments such as ‘you look nice’ are generally not sexist.

Anonymous

If true:

Comment on the meeting would depend on why it was said. Fact is was all male might mean it wasn’t sexist.

What was meant by ‘hitting on’. It wouldn’t necessarily be harassment. How do you know it went no further and that this was because he was a high performer.

Red rose – depends on context. Seniority irrelevant. How did he/she know you’d prefer not to receive it?

Agreed re compliments.

Wulfruna

Comment at meeting would have been considered by men as just banter and was taken as such but was inappropriate. Sometimes you just take comments as banter but it does not mean that it’s appropriate.

I think that the term ‘hitting on’ it fairly self explanatory. Sometimes men and women when they are on residential courses see it as an opportunity for some extra marital. Add free bars into the mix and you have a lethal combination. I can assure you that this person had no encouragement.

The course was all male with the exception of one female.

Line manager did offer to take the matter further. It was mentioned in a discussion (which was not a formal meeting but a course debrief) that if the person involved was suspended that would impact on the business. It was common knowledge that the person was a top performer. As the man involved was from another region there was little chance of any repetition so the matter was dropped.

Anonymous

I can’t see how the comments can have been both taken as banter and inappropriate.

‘Hitting on’ can mean a variety of different things, so depends what was actually done/said before harassment can be concluded. The assumption was that there was no encouragement. Sounds as if there was the choice to take it further but everyone agreed not to. From the other info provided, this was probably the right decision.

Ugh

Boooorrriiinnnggggg

Anonymous

What evidence is there to support the allegations in this survey?

Stato

“Dear female solicitor, please see the attached survey. Feel free to answer it or not, but if you report back that you have been discriminated against or feel there is not equality we will use these pseudo-statistics to force more positive discrimination in the profession which will suit your career prospects. (And to mkae it even easier for you, you can call absolutely anything discrimination that you feel is discrimination too, we are not going to try to work out levels of seriousness, but don’t worry lumping it all into one pot will boost the percentages which is what this survey is intended to achieve, so it is all good.)”

Anonymous

Given that around 50% of these accusations tend to be false, and given the nature of this survey and the apparent lack of checks and balances among the respondees, around 75-80% of the allegations are likely to be untrue on a conservative basis.

Anonymous

But you won’t have to wait long for someone in the SRA, BSB, Law Society or Bar Council to cite them to suit the agenda they are pushing.

Anonymous

Even although they know they aren’t true.

Barrister

Evidence? Or let me guess, it’s true because you’re a man and you say so. It’s curious that men have such difficulty knowing how to behave. I don’t see women sexually harassing and groping men everywhere.

Anonymous

It’s for those making the accusation to provide evidence not the other way around.

There is no evidence that ‘men have such difficulty knowing how to behave’?

You don’t see men sexually harassing and groping women everywhere.

Anony-mouse

This boys club is all rather ambiguous. It is spoken about as if all boys are given a membership card at birth. The Boys Brigade is a boys club but I assume the respondent did not mean the culture is one of singing gospel songs, playing sport and promoting the virtues of tolerance and understanding.

Anonymous

Restoring the comment censored by Alex:

“…found that 80% of female lawyers believe it will take 20 years or more to achieve equality, while 23% consider that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 100 years. Just 2% felt there was true equality in the legal profession, according to the findings.”

Yes, but 99% of women’s feelings are BS, so who cares?

Anonymous

I’ve experienced less issues with men in the profession than women. Men say it how it is, (generally) say “shit sorry” if it’s their fault and just get over things. I had a female colleague respond with “well there must have been only men at your interview” when I said I got the only TC I applied for, first time round at my firm which is very competitive. She seemed shocked when I pointed out that the Training Principle and HR director we’re both female and that the two penises in the room had no real involvement in the approval process. The same woman also said “maybe [the HOD] would fancy me if I wore make up and sexy clothes to work” (I don’t wear provocative clothes to work….and he’d barely spoken to me and had never been inappropriate. She did however also say to another colleague “do you get the impression X will be “someone” some day and we’ll regret the way we spoke to her”….. and I’ll not get started on the two female (parents, associates, old enough to know better) colleagues that used to belittle me every chance they could, laugh as I left the room as exclude me from all training they did with the paralegal (strangely also female but 18 so maybe too young to bully?) Women are the issue to other women in law firms – not men.

memyselfandI

Very true! Women are other women’s worst enemy. One of the reasons why I prefer to work with men.

Wulfruna

I agree. It’s the same in other professions. There is no sisterhood.

My worst experience was not in the workplace but on a residential course. Men away from home, course dinners, free bars. It’s a lethal mix and don’t get me started on bonding courses.

Anon

What do you expect if you go to a bondage course?

Wulfruna

Team building.

Anon

Team bonding.

Anonymous

What was the lack of sisterhood at the residential course?

It’s always best to take it easy with free bars.

Wulfruna

“What was the lack of sisterhood at the residential course?”

I think that was self explanatory.

Anonymous

It wasn’t, hence the question.

Anon

The problem with these surveys is that they are entirely subjective; what does an individual female interpret an individual event to mean.

Is Dave telling Suzanne to “shut the f*ck up”—after she tells the office about him having a small pee-pee—attributable to Dave’s woman-hating patriarchal biases or is it attributable to Suzanne’s being an irritating person?

The answer is whichever interpretation that confirms with your narrative. If your goal is to privilege your sex, and make yourself out to be special because you’re a marginalised female, then of course Dave is being sexist.

Anonymous

Like the moaner on Legalcheek that considers being called “a stupid woman” sexual harassment. Which it clearly is not.

Anon

Or people who think that a man being confident and to the point as “mansplaining”. Whereas when a woman does it … well, then we talk about her brooch collection and call her sassy.

Honest Abe

I worked with a private school educated, spoon-fed snowflake Oxbridge women’s college grad who thought that being asked to make the tea in a meeting was sexist. She would talk about it all the time of course, to show how sexism was rife and how much she has suffered. The reality was that she was about 27 year old at the time, the next oldest person in the room was in their mid 30s. She was the youngest and professionally most junior person in the room, and one of two women. However being asked to make the tea was for her, the clearest indication of sexism. You just get fed up of hearing people who have had everything handed to them in life complaining about petty slights, whilst the rest of us had to struggle to get where we are.

Wulfruna

Some years ago in a satellite branch it was the junior’s role to make the drinks. The junior in this case was male. He did not realise that you had to boil a kettle first and was using the water from the small geyser by the basin in the toilet.

Anonymous

Horrible! As it would be if a junior female did it.

Walk me Home?

100% of male lawyers in the legal profesion have experienced sexism from women, a survey suggests.

Jed

Heeeey, you’re just a 4th year rookie with too much jib in your turnaround! Cut some flack gingerbread! Cut some flack

Anonymous

In the interests of accuracy, the headline should read ‘Over half of female lawyers claim to have experienced or witnessed sexism at work’ or ‘Over half of female lawyers “have experienced or witnessed sexism at work”‘. Claims should not be reported as fact.

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