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Bar Council finds gender parity for barristers ‘unlikely to ever be achieved’ on current trends

The Bar Council has published two reports into gender diversity at the Bar highlighting challenges facing female barristers and finding that on current trends gender parity in Queen’s Counsel (QCs) ranks will not be reached in ‘the foreseeable future’.

The two reports, which taken together provide an overview of diversity at the Bar, are Snapshot: The experience of self-employed women at the Bar, which is based on focus groups; and Momentum Measures: Creating a diverse profession, which uses data to analyse and model trends.

Snapshot, which was published yesterday, drew comments from 85 women in focus groups and through questionnaires on training, junior practice and, silk and judicial appointments. Momentum highlighted that while there was roughly a 50:50 gender split at Call to the Bar but that due to poor retention achieving a 50:50 balance among all practicing barristers was ‘unlikely to ever be achieved.’

The Snapshot report found that the main challenges for female barristers came in publicly funded practice where income pressures from legal aid cuts make it hard to afford childcare or to take breaks during school holidays. It also identified a lack of confidence in applying for senior roles such as silk and judicial appointments, and a lack of female role models to demonstrate the possibility of a successful career.

On the lack of female barristers going for silk and judicial roles, one participant said: ‘Sadly people think about taking silk in their 40s, many women have gone by then or are just coming back to the profession from career break so that is a hindrance’. However, those that had applied found the silk process ‘was much less unpleasant than I thought it would be. I found the process very fair and the interviewers were unfailingly courteous, kind and pleasant’.

Based on the reports the Bar Council has made several recommendations to the profession including: encouraging mentoring by senior female barristers and establish them as role models, create support networks for working parents and for women, extend the Bar Nursery and working to improve diversity of Chambers’ governance committees.

Chairman of the Bar Alistair MacDonald QC, said: ‘As a profession, it is heartening to see we have significantly moved on in the way women are treated. However, whilst most of the examples of sexism, harassment and discrimination quoted in the report are historical, experiences of inappropriate behaviour within the profession continue to exist.’