This summer, the Bar Standards Board published research, Women at the Bar, showing that 56% of women barristers had been subject to sex discrimination at work. That figure excludes those women who preferred not to say whether or not they had experienced discrimination.
Even that figure may be a significant understatement. One member of the bar reported that it had been an ‘occupational hazard’ in the early days of practice that senior males might act inappropriately with young women at the bar. Some junior women felt that they were in a vulnerable position and did not feel empowered to report abuse.
The issue of sex discrimination goes beyond sexual harassment. It affects almost every area of our working lives as lawyers, from court sitting dates and times to parental leave policies; from the silk appointment process to work allocation; from childcare provision to networking events and opportunities.
We all – regulators, judges, barristers, solicitors, clerks and chambers administrators – have a role to play in creating a world which allows women to make a contribution to the profession on equal terms and to fulfil their potential. And there is, as the BSB survey so forcefully demonstrates, still a long way to go.
Emma Dixon, Barrister, Blackstone Chambers, London EC4