In five years time, England and Wales will celebrate 100 years of the legal profession being open to women. The Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919 heralded an influx that 95 years later sees women making up more than half of all entrants. To mark this anniversary the Law Society has announced it will create an online library of stories illustrating the ways women have shaped the profession.
This is a good project, and the results are sure to be engaging. But the conclusion of such a celebration will hardly be ‘mission accomplished’. As the high-achieving participants at this week’s roundtable discussion on ‘Women in the Law’ were able to note, there is much to be done.
A profession which has genuinely held notions of fairness and equality in its DNA seems oddly bad at reflecting such instincts when successfully progressing the careers of more than, say, 20% of women to partnership, or to equivalent status in-house. To point this out is not preaching – rather, this is a puzzle the legal profession should be capable of solving.
The proposed solutions, which reject quotas but include many suggestions on flexible working, better management, ‘sponsorship’ and increased awareness of the ‘unconscious bias’ we all carry, look promising. If widely adopted they would also be a welcome fillip for the health of men’s professional lives as well.
It would be nice, at future anniversaries of the act, to have an even better story to tell.