27 February 2019
The other half of the sky
“I am woman, hear me roar.
In numbers too big to ignore.”
— Helen Reddy
For people of around my generation or so, these words are burned into the brain — a feminist anthem which also appealed to men; it was the soundtrack to a hopeful time. Hope that we were seeing the end of gender discrimination and sexism and the start of a new era of equality.
In truth, many of those hopes have been realised or are on the way — but when you consider that was 1971, it is clear that the pace of change has been slow and the journey is far from over. In the legal world, at least, we have much to do.
Helen Reddy’s words were prophetic, however, especially the line ‘in numbers too big to ignore’, which has become literally true. QLS stats show that just over 51% of those who hold solicitors practising certificates are women; gentlemen, welcome to the minority.
Yes, we have come a long way from when Beryl Donkin was the only female employee at Law Society House, and the days of women effectively having to retire on getting married. QLS has had five female Presidents in its history, meaning that solicitors are quite comfortable with female leadership — clearly more so than certain other halves of the profession who have only recently elected their first female president in their 100+ year existence…
There is no scope for complacency however; women remain under-represented in leadership roles in law firms, and that is deeply concerning. The lack of a career path has frustrated many talented female lawyers, and some of them have left the profession for often greener pastures.
QLS Ethics Solicitor Shane Budden has written before about the dangers of failing to empower talented women, noting that they take their talents elsewhere and soon discover more rewarding careers (in every sense). Then, their abilities are forever lost to us. That is, quite frankly, a disaster in the making, and one of existential proportions.
Our profession faces a multiplicity of challenges over the next decade — challenges which will swamp us if they are not answered with innovation and ability. To handle them, we need our brightest and best, and that means keeping talented women in the fold. The diversity of the solicitor’s branch of the profession is its edge, the quality that sets us apart and that will ensure our survival — if we can harness it; but you cannot harness what you do not have.
International Women’s Day is almost upon us, and we should all turn our minds to ways to address the gender imbalance in our profession’s leadership. I know that many point to quotas as an answer, but they are almost impossible to enforce and could hardly be considered empowering. I am sure there are many innovative suggestions out there in the profession, and I would love to know what they are. In short, I am hearing you, so start roaring!
Bill Potts, QLS President
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