Male colleagues are essential in tackling the lack of gender diversity in the legal profession.
How do you solve the lack of gender diversity in the legal profession? The answer is not targets or quotas. It’s men.
Last week I attended a panel discussion on the latest gender inequality report by the London School of Economics' gender, inequality and power commission.
During the Q&A part of the evening, a man asked why there were no male speakers on the panel. The question drew gasps from the crowd. One tweeted: ‘Why are there no male speakers on the panel? *bangs head repeatedly against little desk thing on my seat*.’
Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti responded: ‘I’m sure that was a lovely and legitimate piece of provocation.’
Perhaps because, moments earlier, I was thinking the same thing as he was or perhaps because the man apologised in advance for what he described as a ‘slightly irrelevant or perhaps ignorant’ question, I struggled to see how the question was provocative.
To have a meaningful debate about diversity, representatives from all sides of the table should be present. Whether one likes it or not, most of the key decision-makers will be men. So they need to be part of the discussion because very little will be achieved without their help.
A little over 12 hours later, at a Women in Law Empowerment Forum, another panel of women spoke about the essential role men can play as ‘sponsors’ (someone within the organisation who champions your cause).
Men, it transpired, are ideal sponsors. ‘I’m bemused how men interact with colleagues and deal with problems in a way I would not expect,’ said one lawyer. ‘It helps to have a male person around to help you translate sometimes.’ Another lawyer commented: ‘We have to find a way to bring [men] in. We cannot exclude them.
Persuading men to acknowledge the importance of having gender equality is not as difficult as it once was. As another lawyer at the forum noted, ’more of them are marrying professional women and seeing it from the point of view of their wives’.
As a result of comments made by Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption last month, I have heard several women since say they do not want to wait 50 years for change. Are quotas the answer? Opinion remains divided. But one thing’s for sure, women need men’s help. And they need men to take a greater interest and be involved.
I’ll leave you with this anecdote from one of the lawyers who attended the forum.
‘We had one event for female partners, and I took [one of my male colleagues]. He said it was the first time he had been in a meeting where he was the minority.
‘Getting them to have these kinds of experiences, which we deal with every day and do not think about because it’s so commonplace, is a continuing process.’
Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter