A young woman in the legal professionAnna CHAB
Today, like every 8th March, we have the opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women everywhere. Looking at the legal industry, most will joyfully reminisce on how far women have come since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919 which allowed women to become lawyers.
For someone like me, born in the 1990’s in a European country where its first Women Prime Minister had just been elected and where a wind of change was blowing, becoming a solicitor always seemed in the realm of possibility. Indeed, the internet was around and I could see there were many female solicitors!
So what is the issue? If women in the UK can study and work, why are we still making such a big deal of International Women’s day?
Whilst it is true that, since 1990, women have represented over 60% of new entrants into the profession, and there are now more women than men practicing as solicitors, according to an extensive data project conducted by the Financial Times, women are still sorely under-represented at the highest echelons of the industry. Of course, these stats do not only apply to lawyers, indeed, even though girls generally perform better at school, a study conducted by Heidrick & Struggles states that only about 5% of working women are in CEO and upper management positions.
In the UK, even though there is a statutory right to request flexible working since 2014, the government’s Equalities Officehas long said that it was not enough and widening access to, and successful implementation of, flexible working arrangements would be key to retaining women and improving gender equality “across society as a whole”. Indeed, it is recognised that it is the fact that women are more likely to be carers than men in addition to workplaces’ “rigid and inflexible structures” which are the main reasons for women not reaching senior positions and pay gaps.
Whilst Covid-19 has brought a lot of loss, sorrow and has also been responsible for a disproportionate amount of mothers and pregnant workers being furloughed and made redundant, it might have changed the workplace for ever and in this context there might be light at the end of the tunnel for women.
Practically overnight in March, businesses have shown great level of flexibility and have proven that they can be agile and continue to deliver, even during major disruption. Being obliged to work from home has shown how efficient one might be even if they are not physically in the office and this realisation could unlock professional opportunities for women who juggle work and caring responsibilities by allowing them to work part time or at “non-typical” hours of the day.
Of course, there are other gendered workplace issues that still require attention but this year, more than ever before, I am filled with great hope; hope for women and men to be equal in the workplace. I would like to wish you all a very happy International Women’s day.