100 Years of Women in Law

This year marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which finally removed the restriction on women qualifying as barristers or solicitors. Not only will the Society of Asian Lawyers celebrate this great milestone, but with your help, the committee will continue to push forward with its campaign for greater diversity, inclusion and equal treatment of legal professionals.

In SAL’s piece “Race to The Top”, following the SRA event in Leeds in October 2018, 18 ways were identified for you (as a lawyer or a law firm) to challenge discrimination in the legal profession.

A group known as The First 100 Years  wants to hear from men and women who have taken steps to prevent discrimination against female lawyers and promote gender balance in the workplace. They also want to know about the problems female lawyers have experienced in terms of career progression or recruitment. It is only by raising awareness of the discrimination, harassment and bullying suffered by women that, together, we can press for proper reform.

Some of you will remember the shocking tweet from barrister, Rehana Popal, who is a member of 10 King’s Bench Walk chambers. In November 2018, Ms Popal tweeted that in one of her cases, a solicitor telephoned her to inform her “the client has said he does not want an Asian female, but a white male barrister.” It is disturbing that this telephone conversation even occurred in modern Britain. As a profession, there is considerable work to be done to achieve gender balance.

Towards the end of 2018, the Society of Asian Lawyers and its members participated in roundtable discussions with The Law Society, Association of Women Barristers and The Bar Council to highlight problems within the profession. Our members spoke candidly about their experiences and suggestions for reform. The committee intends to build on this work in 2019.

From these discussions, we learnt that there are several problems experienced by female lawyers, a common one being inappropriate locker room talk in the robing room at court. A particular sticking point that affects both barristers and solicitors is the treatment of new mothers as they attempt to return to work after their period of maternity leave. Another key issue is the treatment of experienced female lawyers by recruitment companies when they apply for lateral moves at senior levels. White middle class males are statistically more likely to reach the top of the recruitment consultant’s pile of applications.

President of The Law Society, Christina Blacklaws, hopes to create an international platform for both men and women to discuss how to support women in leadership roles because “gender balance boosts productivity and innovation.”

The Society of Asian Lawyers will run a series of talks this year that continue to promote diversity within the legal profession. You are invited to attend all of SAL’s events this year and of course the highlight of the social calendar where we celebrate diversity at its best: the 25th year of the Asian Legal Awards.

Chamali Fernando

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *