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Female barristers still face sexism and harassment

FEMALE barristers still face sexism, harassment and “pockets of lad culture,” the Association of Women Barristers (AWB) warns on the centenary of women entering the legal profession tomorrow.

On the 100th anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, women make up only 37.4 per cent of barristers, according to the AWB.

The figure includes pupils in their final year of training, qualified barristers and Queen’s Counsel.

While the ratio of men to women entering the profession is relatively equal, women disproportionately leave after between five and 10 years in the field, the AWB said.

AWB chairwoman Lynne Townley said several factors contribute to the failure to retain female lawyers, including caring responsibilities through varying policies on maternity leave and their ability to return to work after a career break.

Sexism, harassment and bullying are other main factors.

More than 60 per cent of women and over 40 per cent of men from the legal profession in Britain said they have been bullied at work in an International Bar Association (IBA) survey conducted earlier this year.

In 84 per cent of these cases, the perpetrator was not sanctioned.

And nearly 40 per cent of women said they had experienced sexual harassment at work — compared to six per cent of male respondents — the IBA research found.

About 74 per cent of sexual harassment cases are not reported. And when they are, 71 per cent of the responses were found to be insufficient.

Ms Townley said: “One quite senior female barrister reported that she was in a multi-handed fraud case as the only female barrister. The men were sitting in the robing room and they drew up a list of female barristers that they knew and they were giving them points about who they wanted to shag.

“Because court is adversarial and confrontational, I think it can bring out a very base energy.

“If not handled properly, it can be a very macho, nasty, unsafe environment for anyone who is not in that laddish culture.”

Women are also being assigned more minor cases or being pigeonholed into trials involving sex crimes or children, which are often shorter and provide less opportunity to develop a profile.

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