Few would pretend that the legal profession is immune from sexual harassment. But how widespread is it? Soundings from the City, where working arrangements bear comparison with the scandal-ridden Palace of Westminster, make grim reading.
Previous coverage of this issue has produced two types of feedback – anonymous and often dismissive comments posted by men following an online article; and private emails from women to the author saying something along the lines of ‘good, but you don’t know the half of it’.
Since the Equality Act, legal regulators make clear, the bar for sexual harassment has been set at a historic low. Solicitors need to treat sexual harassment as seriously as they would regulations on fraud or money laundering. For the consequences can – and many would argue should – be career-limiting.
Law firms, meanwhile, make free with bold statements on ‘diversity’, and yet struggle with ‘equality’ beyond that point at which the gender split for entrants and juniors is roughly equal.
The Gazette’s (admittedly unscientific) vox pop suggests a worrying ambivalence toward complaints of sexual harassment, which often seem to fall foul of power structures which go easy on the big (male) rainmakers. To anyone who says the problem is overblown, we would retort – if that is so, how can it be that the respected women lawyers we canvassed (at random) commonly used epithets such as ‘rife’?