Breaking the stereotype, International Women’s Day

International Women’s day is a yearly spotlight on female empowerment and gender equality. It is also a great opportunity to celebrate trailblazing women throughout history. This year’s theme is #breakthebias – seeking to call out gender inequality and encourage people around the world to challenge stereotypes.

As a female solicitor I felt particularly motivated this year to shine a light on the legal profession. In doing so I discovered both interesting and worrying facts – and realised that in the grand scheme of time, women haven’t been in the legal profession for very long. More on that later though!

How I got into law and why

On reflecting ahead of International Women’s Day, I took the opportunity to look back on how I got to where I am today – and it all started in 2001 with the light-hearted movie Legally Blonde. Some 20 odd years later and I am acutely aware that it is of course a terrible cliché to say ‘I watched X and decided I wanted to be a lawyer’ but it is true. Despite University lecturers warning entire year groups of the damage that could be done by expressing such thoughts when applying for a training contract, it would be wrong of me to say that it wasn’t a factor.

It isn’t that I watched the movie and decided I wanted to be Elle Woods (she’s the main character for those of you who haven’t watched the movie). It was more that she challenged the stereotypes that were so heavily imposed on her and showed the world that she could do whatever she set her mind to. This resonated with me.

At college I changed my A-levels last minute, meaning I needed to complete my Law A-Level (a two-year course) in one year. I was told by all my professors that this would be a bad idea and that I would fail. Despite their views I didn’t fail, and went on to study law at University the following year.

What’s your experience of being a woman in law?

In recent years it has been predominantly good. However, there have been a number of experiences I have been through that have made it a challenge to get into and stay in the legal profession.

Over the years there have been many stereotypes imposed on me and offhand comments made. Some were made by people without thought and others were made with the intention to cause harm or offence.  

Some of those experiences are:

  • Being told to dress in a certain way;
  • Being in receipt of unfair pay when compared to male counterparts/juniors;
  • Dealing with unwanted male attention;
  • Being inappropriately spoken to and made to feel uncomfortable during meetings;
  • Being asked if I was married and whether I had children / planned more children;

Worryingly I know I am not alone. In the past I have overheard comments being made by fellow colleagues, and while once upon a time I would have let it pass, I refuse to do so now. Instead, I will call out such inappropriate behaviour. To some this may sound like a troublemaker in the making. I can assure you I am not. I am just striving for a better work life for women – seeking to make it so that those that follow in my footsteps do not have to experience such blatant bias. I encourage everyone, whatever their gender, to do the same.

Interesting facts I found out

In looking deeper into the legal profession’s history, I was surprised to find out that this year marks 100 years since the first woman was admitted as a solicitor. Her name was Carrie Morrison. Carrie was admitted to the Role of Solicitors three years after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. This Act had been needed to permit women to enter the profession as prior to this there was no legal right for them to do so.

Carrie was not the first woman to try and be admitted to the Role, nor was she the first woman who had to fight to be allowed to complete a law degree, or before that to go to University. However, she (and all those women who fought those previous battles) deserve to be celebrated.

While 100 years may sound a lot, and is certainly more than most people’s lifetime, in the history of time it really isn’t very long at all. In these 100 years, women have slowly been increasing in numbers within the profession with the balance now tipping in favour of more women being admitted to the Roll than men (52% to be exact*). Sadly, however, there is still a gap between the number female Partners / females in management roles, compared to the role of solicitor. Women remain underrepresented at Partner level in firms of all sizes making up just 35% of the Partners across law firms.

What about IDR?

IDR Law was founded on solid modern-day principles. It has core values that run through the firm, which include the right to a fair and safe working environment. Although as a Partnership we currently meet the national statistical standard, all of the current Senior Associates in the firm are Women. The next appointment to Partner will therefore, in all likelihood, tip the balance to an equal male / female divide. This will certainly be something to celebrate.

But of course, we can’t stop there. While it is great to be able to shine a light on women in the legal profession, International Women’s Day is about all women, everywhere. Despite my experiences I know I am incredibly lucky to live in a society that no longer represses women. We have a voice. Others are not so lucky.

What can we all do?

International Women’s Day is not just a day to be celebrated, it is a mission that promotes fundraising opportunities for female-focused charities.

Not surprisingly, this year focus has moved towards supporting those vulnerable women and girls caught up in the conflict in Ukraine. One of the charities promoted by the International Women’s Day mission is the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts. Having looked into the work they are doing, I chose to donate to their cause.

If you wish to donate, details of the various charities that International Women’s Day have a spotlight on can be found on their website (IWD: For IWD 2022 step forward in solidarity and donate (internationalwomensday.com).

Let’s be amazing together.

Cara Hough, Partner

Sources:

*SRA | How diverse is the legal profession? | Solicitors Regulation Authority

International Women’s Day 2022 (internationalwomensday.com)

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