An often overlooked part of a women barrister’s career trajectory is the effect of an individual’s health and overall wellbeing. In a self-employed role such as a barrister there can be more stresses on an individual’s health, as income can be unstable and there is more pressure to perform and succeed continuously. As well as having a debilitating on the individual barrister, lack of support for health changes is having an effect on the Bar as it can cause women to leave.
Her Bar discusses key areas that are particularly pertinent to women barristers and asks for your feedback or suggestions for any extra support you feel we should have.
Menopause is defined by the NHS as ‘when a woman stops having periods and are no longer able to get pregnant naturally’. This usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline, with the average age being 51 in the UK. However, for years before this, women may experience ‘perimenopause’ where hormone levels gradually start lowering and this can cause some physiological changes in the body.
Common symptoms of menopause include:
⦁ hot flushes
⦁ reduced sex drive (libido)
⦁ problems with memory and concentration
⦁ night sweats
⦁ vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
⦁ difficulty sleeping
Although often a taboo subject, menopause is now (rightly) being discussed in the public arena with BUPA and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) finding in 2019 that 3 in 5 menopausal women- usually aged between 45 and 55- were negatively affected at work and that almost 900,000 women in the U.K. left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. The Women and Equalities Committee are now carrying out an inquiry into the effect of menopause at the workplace – please find more information here.
Currently there is still no mandatory training around menopause or health within Chambers and the onus is currently on women to raise this as a problem and to request support. Her Bar is hopeful the government review will create an official road map and guidance for Chambers to follow in order to provide more support.
⦁ Talk. Often the first step for change is for women to feel comfortable enough to share their experiences and to recognise they are deserving of support during this difficult period. Her Bar encourages you to use our Chat function to discuss with other women barristers in similar situations their ways of coping, support they’ve received or wish they were receiving. Ultimately, as women, it is something we are likely to experience and the best support we have is sharing with each other.
⦁ Campaign. We want menopause to be included on the Women’s Charter for the Bar, for all chambers to commit to dealing with the issue and providing more support. We also want to create a list of protocols and guidance which can be circulated throughout chambers. We want these protocols to be created by women barristers so please use our comment box below if you have suggestions or would like to be involved in this project.
⦁ Information. There is an abundance of information available to help individuals better cope and understand menopause.. Our recommended links are below:
- Wellbeing at the Bar
- Menopause support
Have you ever thought about how your practice may need to adapt in line with changes to your health?
The Bar is statistically getting older with a recent study stating that the average age of a practising barrister has risen from 38.5 in 1990-91 to 46.5 in 2019-20. Meanwhile, almost 40% of barristers are now over 50, compared with just 3% in 1990. In line with longer life expectancy, barristers are working longer than ever but it is surprising how little we discuss the affect on ageing on our work and how our practice may need to adapt.
As we age we can experience many changes to the body including, mental health issues, musculoskeletal health e.g. joint pain, memory loss etc… However, there seems to be evidence that many are not discussing these issues and are continuing to work in the same way that has previously worked for them decades earlier – ways which may no longer be fit for purpose.
The Bar, particularly, can create an environment or stereotype of ‘grinning and bearing it’ and to never show weakness, in order not to be undermined or lose work to other colleagues, but we find this counter-intuitive to sustaining a long, successful career. Her Bar wants to encourage women barristers to embrace any new changes to their health, finding workable patterns to sustain a healthy body and a practice and to ensure they are receiving enough support from colleagues and chambers.
⦁ Embrace change. There will be times where things change, be it you can’t remember a simple word, misplacing things, feeling low when you’re children leave the home. It’s important to recognise these changes and embrace them. Resilience isn’t just used for progressing up the career ladder but life events also. By embracing these changes you can find a workable solution so that your work continues to thrive
⦁ Changing your habits. If you’re finding it more difficult to recall information, give yourself extra time to prepare. If you’re finding yourself more tired during the week, take on less cases to give yourself time to rest between. If you’re finding it difficult to carry large amounts of paperwork, switch to electronic working (check out Her Bar’s reverse mentoring scheme for assistance with this). Being adaptive and flexible with your practice in line with changes in your life will ensure you’re not overloaded.
⦁ Keep your mind and body active. Health is important throughout a women barrister’s life but especially as we begin to age. There are proven links between exercise and low moods, and sleep issues as well as maintaining strength and agility and increasing vitality. In a similar vain, challenging your mind constantly through brain training exercises and learning new skills from scratch can also help combat memory loss.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Could the Bar being doing more to support women barristers’ health in the workplace?
We want to know what you think about this issue. Please send any stories, comments and suggestions on this topic to us using the comment box below – the good, the bad and the ugly are all welcomed. All entries will be treated as anonymous unless expressly consented to otherwise. Alternatively, do click onto our Chat page to discuss these issues openly with our community of women barristers.
Topics we are particularly interested in include:
⦁ The culture of ‘women’s health’ at the Bar – is it discussed?
⦁ Tips for dealing with menopause at the Bar
⦁ Effect on age at the Bar and ways of dealing with it
⦁ Support from Chambers/ Inns
⦁ Useful resources for adapting practice in line with health needs
Why are we interested? Her Bar thinks the Bar could better support women during career breaks and we have long term goals to campaign for change. We will be running research campaigns and eventually present a protocol of changes to relevant stakeholders at the Bar.