“The higher you go, the fewer women there are”
Challenging the norms is vital as a female barrister; through upholding strong and empowering qualities it enables females to excel in a male dominative sphere. In reality everyone should be recognised for their academic ability at the Bar and how they perform as a barrister within the courtroom. Structural challenges as a woman are inevitable at the Bar because of how men have dominated the sphere. I am greatly influenced by all women at the bar who are my inspiration to work and excel as a female BAME barrister.
Harassment and Discrimination:
Tackling issues of harassment and discrimination include the mandatory training for each individual in the legal sphere, as well as there being improvements to working policies within each Inn. In particular, the Association of Women Barristers, had discussed issues of supporting victims of harassment and the ability to flourish in the legal world. Many female barristers had reported they were excluded from conversations with their male counterparts and even had to endure upon inappropriate conversations. It can be mitigated that old fashioned views are still enforced at the Bar making it a further challenge for women to excel at their role. Toxicity of chambers can be identified through women leaving the career earlier than male barristers as a result of misconduct and lack of support from the Bar Council and BSB. Many found it was damaging to their reputation when they had reported issues of incidents faced.
Work Life Balance and Family Life:
Having children whilst working at the Bar can be a difficult combination to handle, but it is not impossible. Actually, it shows how dedicated and hardworking women are serving their work commitments and social responsibilities. It had been noted in several articles how women’s careers had begun to flatten once returning back from work, it is disappointing to learn that women are essentially punished for childbirth. Upon returning back to the workplace they should be supported by their chambers and given appropriate work to maintain that balance. It challenges women’s idea of whether they can fulfil a long term career at the Bar as a result of being financially burdened after returning. These issues are not recognised by the typical male barrister, resulting in them being able to continue to excel at the Bar. It takes a lot of will power and confidence to maintain in this role where as time progresses less women are visible in the role. It is disheartening to understand more about female barristers struggles and concerns of having children whilst balancing their career.
A woman who has excelled graciously in the Barrister sphere is Alexandra Wilson. BAME graduate from Oxford University she specialises in criminal and family law. She represents clients in a proficiency manner and shown the ability to deal with difficult circumstances in an efficient manner. She provides legal representation for disenfranchised minorities and others upon a pro bono basis. She is both passionate and vocal about equality and diversity at the Bar, in particular being the founder of Black Women in Law. Her first book called ‘In Black and White’ explored issues of race and class within the legal system. She has spoken upon many podcasts and written articles surrounding these issues within the courtroom and reasons for why reform is a fast necessity in law. She has been a great influence for me as a mixed-race barrister who has excelled academically in her career as a barrister and writer. It has encouraged me to look beyond my law degree to write perspective work in order to build upon insights into the barrister field.
Achieving equality for women at the Bar goes hand in hand with implementing the rule of law. It enables a transparent, inclusive and representative workfield which reflects the diverse demographic we see in the UK. Through more women becoming judges it enables a moderate reform to the legal world. There is often a theory that decisions in a case can be as a result of the sexual identity of that judge, whereby there is a typical belief that one acts in a softer manner. It is argued that women are more liberal than male judges and lenient in reference to sentencing guidelines. It is not significant to draw distinctions on a mass scale, as each judge is independent to its own findings in the courtroom depending on the oral advocacy by barristers. I have had the honour to work alongside women judges whilst obtaining legal work experience, giving me the chance to understand the true struggles and obstacles a woman has faced whilst trying to achieve this ultimate goal. With maternity being a key factor for women taking a short break in their career it has left many finding it difficult to return. Women should be praised for every step of their legal career, but as a self-employed barrister it is more important to congratulate the hard work and competitive stance that has to be upheld. A woman of significance in the legal sphere is Lady Hale who specialised as a family judge and dealt with fraught cases where the right answer was a challenging debate. She had challenged the male dominated sphere as well as reformed the system as what it was once known as. As a president of the Supreme Court she became a great advocate for female equality and immense integrity.
Mentoring schemes for women at all stages of one's career should be more apparent. It is important that women are supported throughout their career, in order to help tackle constantly arising issues which can surface as a result of their identity. This would aid encouragement and build the confidence of women to excel in their practice. Women who maintain a long term career at the Bar should be able to have access to life coaches supporting women through career breaks and financial advice. Furthermore, it is important that junior women see it is possible to have a successful career at the Bar, in particular one telling stories and advice. To put this all into practice networks should be developed to focus on these topical issues, sharing advice and providing guidance where necessary.
To sum up, women working in the law should be excelled for their continuous efforts. Women like Lady Hale and Alexandra Wilson are influential for aspiring female barristers as they are advocates for female equality within the Bar. Despite continuing issues faced against women in the legal sphere there are leading, influential women who have shown what is possible.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2110855.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A6d8645f538e89419d7832d8ed29eceda - John Gruhl, Cassia Spohn and Susan Welch ‘Women as Policymakers: The Case of Trial Judges’, , American Journal of Political Science, [May 1981], Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 308-322