'Gender discrimination is rife' still in UK's legal profession, survey finds

Despite frequency of sexist comments, many do not speak up for fear of repercussions

'Gender discrimination is rife' still in UK's legal profession, survey finds

Sexism is still prevalent in the legal profession in the UK, a new study has found.

According to gender equality campaign group The First 100 Years, 58% of women in the profession confirmed that they or someone they work with have been subjected to inappropriate comments from male colleagues.

The survey of 741 lawyers and legal professionals also found that 46% said they or their colleague did not speak up for fear of repercussions on their careers.

The research found that just 2% of women in the legal profession considered there is “true equality” in the profession. It also found that 80% expected equality to be achieved in 20 or more years. A third had a bleaker outlook, saying that at the current rate, equality will be achieved in a century.

One associate said that gender equality was just a talking point for her firm.

“Women in my workplace are routinely discriminated against, harassed and then forced into silence if they complain,” she said. “Diversity and ‘women’s initiatives’ are PR orientated – my firm is a supposed leader in these areas on paper, but it is a completely different story in practice.”

Another lawyer, who has risen to the partnership, said that her promotion was viewed as a public-relations move by some partners.

“I was promoted to partner in an all-male partnership. I felt I had to constantly justify my position, as some within the partnership hinted that I was only offered the role because they needed to have a female partner,” she said.

A barrister said that when she announced her second pregnancy, a senior lawyer, who was male, told her that she “didn’t keep your legs shut for long.”

The survey found that 52% agreed that men still more easily clinch promotions than women. Less than half of respondents said women are fairly represented in the leadership ranks.

“Gender discrimination is rife,” another partner said. “The ‘boys’ network’ remains in full force, excluding women from networking opportunities and bullying them so that they feel inadequate and incapable.”

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