Gender diversity under the microscope as proportion of women barristers stalls

Gender diversity under the microscope as proportion of women barristers stallsThe Bar Council has called for the top 30 commercial and Chancery sets to support its efforts to promote gender diversity at the bar.

The appeal comes as The Lawyer’s Bar Top 30 survey shows that the past three years have seen no improvement in the ratio of women to men taking tenancy in the top civil sets. Since 2006 there have been three male tenants for every female barrister.

At Essex Court, One Essex Court and Quadrant Chambers this rockets to seven men for every woman. Commercial sets 20 Essex Street ;and ;3 ;Verulam ­Buildings have the fourth and fifth worst ratios respectively of the top 30, with five men to each woman.

Bar Council chair Tim Dutton said the body is obliging every set to have a diversity office to monitor representation at the bar.

“These figures demonstrate that there’s still much work to be done – as there is in other walks of life, such as the Civil Service,” he said.

Matrix Chambers’ Karon Monaghan QC, whose set has one woman to every two men, says The Lawyer’s findings reaffirm the inequality at the bar.

“It’s difficult to succeed unless you fit with the male norm, but with women still doing the bulk of childcare it’s not possible to drop everything to travel across the country or work long hours or on weekends,” she said. “There needs to be a cultural shift with part-time, while flexible working, such as working from home, needs to be encouraged. Until that happens, things aren’t likely to change.”

Dutton thinks the key is to ensure that women are able to continue practising further into their careers.

“The Bar Council and the Inns are currently working on establishing a nursery within the Inns of Court, which will assist those with young families who are combining ;work ;and ­childcare,” he said.

One top 30 senior clerk said the civil sets are aware of the diversity issues, but feel it is something that is out of their control.

“We have to give opportunities to join chambers on merit, so some years we’ll have more female pupils and others more males,” he said. “It’s not something that can be controlled.”

Meanwhile, the number of female silks in the top 30 sets has improved over the past three years, since the new silk rounds started under the supervision of the Queen’s Counsel selection panel.

In 2006 there were 14 male silks for every female (28 women to 404 men), while this year there are 11 male silks for every female (42 women to 479 men).