Female barristers are not reporting harassment and discrimination over fears their careers will suffer, according to statistics published by the bar regulator today.
The Bar Standards Board’s report Women at the Bar shows that two in five respondents have experienced harassment. Of these, eight in 10 of did not report their experiences.
The most common reason for not reporting harassment was that it would have harmed career prospects, such as obtaining work from solicitors. Barristers at an early stage in their career - pupils, in particular - are particularly vulnerable, the report suggests.
Nearly eight in 10 of those who experienced discrimination at the bar did not report their experiences. Again, the most common reason for not reporting was that it would have damaged their career.
Lay and solicitor clients, together with members of the judiciary were responsible for nearly half of external instances of discrimination.
One self-employed barrister said: ‘A solicitor said to my clerks that he would not instruct a woman. My clerks protested. He apologised. My male colleagues refused to do the piece of work.’
Responses to the report also highlighted negative attitudes towards women returning from maternity leave.
More than two-thirds of respondents said they had considered leaving the bar. Respondents who were from a black or minority ethnic background, who had caring responsibilities, or who had experienced harassment or discrimination, were more likely to have considered leaving, the report says.
BSB director general Vanessa Davies said she would write personally to every multi-tenant chambers in England and Wales to ensure equality policies required under the BSB’s equality rules are properly implemented and that everyone is aware of them.
She said: ‘We cannot tolerate a situation where women are treated unfairly in the workplace. Lack of diversity and discriminatory working culture and practices impair the bar’s ability to meet the needs of the public and could deter potentially great candidates from pursuing a career at the bar.’
When asked if there was anything beyond the equality rules, introduced in 2012, that could be done to retain women at the bar, one respondent said: 'Rules are helpful but do not address subtle forms of stereotyping and discrimination that affect us all. In the solicitors’ profession, the largest firms are starting to address this through training on unconscious bias.’
Bar Council chairman Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said some of the experiences documented by the BSB were historic 'but there is no room for complacency’.
The profession, like others, continues to face challenges around harassment and discrimination, she said. 'It is a positive sign, however, that women now feel able to come forward with their experiences, and I believe that we are moving in the right direction.’