The Association of Women Solicitors London welcomes Christopher Digby-Bell’s provocative letter. Yes, it is outrageous that women lawyers are struggling to reach senior positions.
Certainly, fantastic role models exist and many spend inordinate amounts of their precious personal time helping other women at all levels. Why are they not as visible as they should be? Myriad reasons, but two I urge you to explore: unconscious bias and fear of ‘reprisals’.
Women are not immune to conscious (but probably more commonly, unconscious) bias. Both sexes tend to promote men because that is what they are used to seeing. Consider the orchestra experiments where musicians auditioned behind a screen and removed shoes so the decision-makers had no clues as to gender. This resulted in equitable appointments of women.
Many women deliberately shun exposure. Aggressive attacks on visible women by social media trolls show how unpleasant this can be, highlighted by the ‘HeForShe’ campaign. Try typing ‘women should…’ into Google and it won’t say ‘be promoted to leadership positions’.
Presenteeism is a barrier for anyone wanting to combine a leading legal role with a personal passion, whether that be childcare or golf. Flexible working is not yet embedded into the culture of most firms. It is when as many men as women use these rights that it becomes normalised behaviour and therefore does not impact on promotion. Many employment rights are very new: 2015 ushered in the right to share parental leave, the first time fathers could even consider this.
The more men are involved in this conversation the better. So, thank you, you have inspired us to highlight a role model a month: a woman in a leading position who also dedicates time to mentoring and encouraging others. Look for them at www.awslondon.co.uk.
Jessica Standley, on behalf of the Association of Women Solicitors London