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Women supporting women to get to the top

In a recent webinar, we brought together all parts of the legal ecosystem. For the judiciary, we had the honorable Mrs. Justice Cockerill. For the Bar, Anneliese Day KC, a silk at Fountain Court Chambers. Client side we welcomed Nina Best, GC of Delinian. Finally, for private practice, we heard from Commercial Disputes partner Nikki Edwards and senior associate, Avneet Baryan. What could we learn from each other? Here we give a window into some of the insights shared by the panelists. You can listen to the full webinar here.

Women are underrepresented at the top of the legal profession

In private practice, women represent only 32% of equity partners in England and Wales, despite the profession being 53% female. Women make up 40% of barristers, yet, while 60% of pupils are female, they make up only 20% of silks. Women are underrepresented in the judiciary too, around a third of court judges and half of tribunal judges are women, but the proportion remains lower in senior court appointments.

Is it any better client side? Yes, although sadly it is still not 50/50. The proportion of women on FTS350 boards is 40% and just under 41% for FTSE100.

Now that our Lady Chief Justice is female – is it merely a waiting game?

Mrs. Justice Cockerill started off the conversation by underlining the importance of visibility, not only to facilitate the notion that ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, but also to remind people of the different dimensions that the female perspective brings. Our Lady Chief Justice shows that there is no limit in legal, but we cannot rest there.

Anneliese Day KC reminded us that the number of silks has been hovering around 20% for too long. She encouraged us to look at what might be happening subconsciously and also thought that visibility is important. “There was a fantastic announcement recently by the judiciary about using more junior counsel in court, which has had a brilliant effect. And allowed people to think about it.”  She referred here to the announcement in November 2023 to encourage juniors in general, but females in particular, to have better opportunities to advance oral arguments in courts and tribunals.

Anneliese spoke of the importance of increasing the pool of people who are on lists. “No one thinks that most people are doing this deliberately. But you may just be using the same people your firm's always used, or clients have always used. So I think it's very important that we think about how we give people more access to more choice”.

For Nikki, the rate of progress is too slow. She noted that for decades “most firms have been doing and saying the right thing” and so what we are doing now is not enough. We need to think about what more we can do that will make a difference.  For Nikki, this is about creating opportunities for women, but also ensuring that women want to take the opportunities.  Choice, and in particular women stepping out of the race to the top, was something that we uncovered in our research.

Taking positive action

Nina Best shared a personal example of positive action, which she described as “doing positive things that can help to make things better, to make things fairer, to make things more equal.”  She noted that for her current role, there was a requirement from her predecessor to “search far and wide and change the search parameters. And I want you to look for people who don't look like me.”  She noted that this enabled her to be part of the same rigorous process as others – and succeed. She was then mentored “to understand the world in which I found myself”. 

Nina concluded that positive action takes a lot of work. “It certainly isn't just a waiting game, and it will just happen. It's very much positive action to help to change the dial.”

Role modeling

Avneet Baryan represented the upcoming female talent that the profession has on the webinar. For her, she thought that role modeling was important, and she extended that to mean “making partnership appealing.” Again, this ties into our findings that women step away because they just don’t see it as such.

The sort of role modeling she would like to see is partners showing that they have balance. That it is possible to juggle work and other responsibilities.

Avneet also thought that, in line with the positive action that Nina spoke of, and the junior representation mentioned by Anneliese, more could be done in private practice to give juniors, and particularly women, more opportunities to build confidence – through things like writing articles, or speaking at events.

We have found that women often don’t progress because they perceive themselves as being bad at business development. One might argue, how can they be good if they haven’t been allowed to try?

If you are looking for ways to increase female representation at the top of your organisation, get in touch. We can support through coaching programmes, facilitating open and honest conversation, or with thought-provoking key-notes.


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