Survey raises issue of sexual discrimination in the legal profession
I have noticed in the Press that it has been found lately that women are still being discriminated against at Law firms and in courts etc. Is this true and how bad is the problem if so?
Recently the results of a huge international survey have been published about this issue. So far as the UK alone is concerned, leaving aside the international aspect, some good strong data is available about what is happening and what people think about it.
The Law Society looks after some of the interests of solicitors – one branch of the legal profession – in England and Wales. It asked questions of the profession in its survey ‘Women in the Law’ and it got 7,781 replies – a reasonably high number, and 5,758 were from women, 554 from men and the rest from “unknown” or “other”.
74% of the men and 48% of the women said they thought that there had been progress on gender equality in the last five years.
But barriers remain to women rising through the ranks, respondents said. These include, according to those who participated:
l Unconscious bias frustrating career progression for women;
l Unacceptable work/life balance requirements doing the same;
l Traditionally male ‘networking’ routes stopping women getting ahead;
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l Resistance to flexible working.
It was also noted by 60% that they were aware of a gender pay gap in their place of work and only 16% of these could see actions being taken to address that issue.
Eminent lawyer Helena Kennedy QC noted that day-to-day sexist pressures for barristers remain – this is the other branch of the legal profession whose members more often than solicitors work in the higher courts.
Among examples of these cited by her are some which – ironical to say – might well result in sex discrimination cases in other contexts. For example, one young female barrister raised the issue of her child care responsibilities when asked to take part late into the evening in a court case and the judge in the case – a male – said: “You should really think about whether the Bar is right for you.”
It seems sometimes it is OK to be bullying and sexist in court even although when bullying and sexism raise their ugly heads in other work contexts it is the court you go to in order to get a remedy.
Although the majority entering the legal profession is now female, the answer to the question above is that much remains to be done before it can be claimed that sex discrimination has been fettled in the Law.