December 23 will mark 125 years since the formation of the Bar Council and 100 years since women could first enter the legal profession.
The groundbreaking act, which removed all legal barriers to women working as lawyers, was the result of a 40-year long campaign by women to be admitted to the profession.
Women made many attempts to be admitted to the legal profession before 1919 but access to the profession was controlled by The Law Society and the Inns of Court, whose members resolutely refused to admit females.
Carrie Morrison qualified as the first female solicitor in 1922. Now, a century on and after various pieces of legislation giving rights to women, things should have improved significantly for women.
What is gender discrimination?
In 2013 a leaked memo from magic circle Firm Clifford Chance, sent only to female employees asked them to ‘lose their quirky mannerisms and deliberately deepen the pitch of their voice’. It is alarming that these attitudes towards women still exist.
Gender discrimination is still an issue in the workplace. A staggering number of women are entering the profession, yet are still behind men when it comes to career progression.
In private practice 71 per cent of the partners are male, compared to just 29 per cent of female partners. In larger law firms less than 30 per cent of the partners are women, with some firms at the lower end of the scale having 14 per cent of the partnership being female.
Earnings for trainees and newly qualified solicitors are generally equal until around about 3-4 years post qualification where the difference in pay becomes starts, which men being paid more and women often not getting the chance to catch up.
The most obvious reason for this will be the fact that women take career breaks to start a family; a move which is undeniably damaging to their careers. Coming back to work part time widens the gap in earnings and damages a women’s promotion prospects.
Firms are, generally speaking, not set up in a way which supports a good work, life balance. Flexible working would assist in part. However, the real issue is that women who seek to arrangements that balance family and working life can be viewed as not being serious about their careers or not being committed enough.
Proving gender discrimination in the workplace
Trainee Solicitor Katie Smith won her case for pregnancy discrimination when her Firm refused to keep her on after she fell pregnant in the final months of her traineeship. She claims that she was essentially written off by her supervisor, who showed no interest in her after she became pregnant. This was a clear case of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
In October, senior solicitor Ryan Beckwith was disciplined by his regulator and fined for engaging in sexual activity with one of his junior colleagues after a night out when she was so intoxicated that she struggled to walk. Men in positions of power over women is still very much a bar to women making progress.
Today, there is still a pay gap between men women in the legal profession and others.
Gender or pregnancy discrimination is unlawful and those who have been affected by this can be entitled to compensation.
If you think you have been affected by this, contact an employment specialist at Watermans today.