The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda is rightly of critical importance to business (law firms being no exception) and is finally starting to get the priority and attention it deserves. Whilst that's fantastic to see there is so much more to be done!
Quite apart from being vital for those who suffer at the hands of a lack of equality, diversity and inclusion, failure to prioritise this agenda is frankly bad for business - how can a business thrive and get the best out of itself and its people if it doesn't have a well balanced and engaged workforce which is truly representative of the region it is based in or the marketplace it operates in, or an environment which nurtures and supports its people no matter who they are, what they look like or where they come from?
Of course the reach of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion goes far beyond gender, and I wouldn't want to downplay the importance of other elements, including race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, social background or age, however International Women's Day is a good time to consider just exactly what progress has been made regarding gender equality.
The legal profession has made great strides in recent times (and certainly in the 22 years I've been in it). The SRA reported last year that the continued increase of women entering the legal profession means that 48% of UK lawyers are now female, which is great news!
However, we need to keep cranking up the pressure to achieve more progress, much faster. On today, of all days, it's so disheartening to read that, according to survey results just published by The Lawyer, sexual harassment has taken place in at least 55 of the UK's top 100 law firms in the last year. Furthermore apparently the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report states that at the current rate gender parity won't happen for another 217 years - staggering!
What's more, whilst the number of UK women lawyers is approaching parity with men, there is still significant disparity at partnership and senior leadership roles. At Brabners, whilst I'm delighted that our latest two recent recruits into senior exec roles are women, I am still very aware of the fact that much more progress is needed to fully correct any imbalance in senior positions and ensure we properly nurture, encourage and develop the career aspirations of our female lawyers and professionals, providing the support and flexibility which that requires. I would encourage all leadership teams to be truly open and honest about their firm's current position. In and of itself, simply acknowledging the need for progress isn't enough, however it is at least a positive statement of intent to keep improving and doing better.
We've got a number of relevant centenaries approaching in the UK legal profession - women were first allowed to enter the legal profession in 1919 and the first female solicitors and barristers qualified in 1922. We shouldn't ignore the significance of those landmarks and the increased focus they will hopefully bring to the gender equality debate in our profession.
Today is a good day to be positive and reflect on and commit to the part we must all play so as to empower our female colleagues and push for the gender quality which society rightly expects!
What is International Women’s Day and why do we celebrate it? IWD is celebrated globally and annually. It’s a day to acknowledge and promote the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. There has been a significant shift in the attitudes towards women and society’s thoughts about equality. Since the 1900s, women have obtained greater rights at work, greater equality in legislative rights, and increased visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life. Unfortunately, gender parity isn’t there yet. Women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women are still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. However, great improvements have been made. This is why we celebrate IWD.