March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD) and the campaign this year is #PressForProgress. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report states that gender parity won’t happen for another 217 years. It’s more important than ever to press forward and strive for gender equality.
To celebrate advancements and progress in gender equality, I’ll talk about some key findings in the legal profession and some notable women in law.
What is International Women’s Day and why do we celebrate it?
IWD is celebrated globally and annually. It’s a day to acknowledge and promote the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
There has been a significant shift in the attitudes towards women and society’s thoughts about equality. Since the 1900s, women have obtained greater rights at work, greater equality in legislative rights, and increased visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life. Unfortunately, gender parity isn’t there yet. Women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women are still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. However, great improvements have been made. This is why we celebrate IWD.
Women in law
The legal profession in the UK has historically been a white male dominated profession. It wasn’t until 1919 that women were allowed to be awarded degrees and enter the legal profession.
Carrie Morrison became the country’s first female solicitor in 1922. Helena Normanton was the first woman to practise as a barrister in the same year.
More recently, Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, was appointed as the UK Supreme Court’s first female President. As a long standing champion of diversity amongst senior judges, she has previously said that the ‘judiciary should be ashamed if it does not improve its record on the issue’. Brenda Hale’s appointment to President of the Supreme Court represents a historic achievement and a resounding victory for gender equality.
How diverse are law firms in the UK?
Whilst historically men made up the majority of lawyers, there has been a recent shift. A report from the Solicitors Regulation Authority in August 2017 showed there has been an increase in women entering the legal profession, and that there is almost an equal number of female and male lawyers.
However, the report also showed that partnership was still dominated by males (77% vs 33%) and the prospects of becoming a partner in a law firm were higher for white males than any other group across all types of firms. In the largest law firms only 29% of the partners were female. This shows that senior positions within law firms are still predominantly held by men.
This may reflect the traditional model of continuing a straight career path from academia, to qualification to partnership, with no room for family planning, career breaks or flexible working. This remains incompatible with women today, no matter how far social expectations have progressed.
What you can do
We all have the collective responsibility to drive gender parity. IWD doesn’t belong to any single feminist or organisation but to the collective efforts of everyone who cares about human rights.
If you’re a business, empowering women can be as simple as implementing employment policies that provide equal opportunities and rights for women, whilst also being considerate of personal motivations. Having an Equal opportunities policy, Flexible working policy and a Maternity policy are a great way to show an inclusive attitude.
Make a pledge for parity and let’s all #PressForProgress.