Unconscious bias, gender stereotypes, unequal pay and a lack of flexible working – these are some of the common challenges faced by women in the law across the globe according to a report released by the Law Society ahead of a two-day international summit.
After hosting roundtables across five continents, speaking to more than 700 women, Society president Christina Blacklaws said today’s report summarises their experiences ‘in the hope that we can learn from each other to increase inclusivity and create a forward-looking profession’.
In Africa, several women talked about male lawyers heading high-performing teams of female lawyers but paradoxically expecting their wives to be at home looking after their children. Men are commonly given higher-value briefs, with one women recalling a client asking for a male lawyer to take on his military court case.
In the Americas, women talked about being judged on what they wear, with one recalling a male judge who would not let a woman conduct a case because she was wearing trousers. Many women were also routinely mistaken for paralegals, secretaries, clerks and typists. Black and minority ethnic lawyers were sometimes mistaken for defendants.
In Asia and the Middle East, a female high court advocate was arrested, held in contempt of court, and her licence was suspended after she accused a judge of gender bias.
In Europe, some participants felt female lawyers could be competitive and aggressive when dealing with other women.
In the Pacific, women shared their experiences of sexual harassment while men spoke about their concerns about what would not be regarded as acceptable behaviour following recent scandals.
Blacklaws said: ‘Whilst female lawyers around the world face many of the same key challenges, women in some countries also face laws which perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace. For example, in some jurisdictions it is legal to avoid hiring pregnant women – making it much more difficult for working mothers to progress. As a profession which strives to uphold justice, the legal profession must be at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.’
Recommendations in the report centre around encouraging men to be champions of change, a zero tolerance for sexual harassment, women supporting other women, targets and quotas, leadership, and recruitment processes.
A Women in Law pledge will also be unveiled at tomorrow’s summit, encouraging firms to hold themselves accountable for driving gender equality in their workforce.