It’s now 100 Years since women were allowed to be solicitors.
Almost. The bill to allow it was actually enacted on 23rd December 1919. It then took several years before the first female barrister was called to the bar.
Why am I telling you this?
Firstly we’re proud to champion the First 100 Years project. It is working hard to create a video archive celebrating 100 years and promoting with optimism, the coming 100 years.
Secondly, it was the Society of Construction Law Lunch last month, and First 100 Years founder, Dana observed the lack of women at the event. In comparison with others, The SCL is one organisation where things are gradually progressing. But there’s work to be done – only 1.5 of the last 18 papers were written by women.
For our part, our entire female team went to the SCL lunch and 50% of our workforce!
However, I was talking last week to a colleague who’d returned from MIPIM, the international property festival. It has something of a reputation for chauvinism. She noted that things are getting better. She’d only been groped a few times…
We also had a recent story from a firm where a female team member was asked by a client to do something we know would have horrified senior colleagues. As marketing people, we’re all too conscious of how vulnerable you feel when you’re not ‘fee earning’.
We could go on. Baroness Hale recently cited women barristers being overlooked by Clerks for appointments. A law firm trumpeted their achievement of ‘20% female partners’ – which we thought was a dubious achievement. A friend at a carpentry contractor noted less than 1% BAME females on apprenticeships and ‘on the tools’ in construction. There are many examples.
There’s also some fear things will regress. The rise of populism and the election of a US President with limited respect for women don’t help. But we’re pleased that we now live in a ‘cultural landscape’ where women generally feel comfortable enough to stand up to most extremes of such abuse.
Nevertheless, it’s remarkable that in this day and age women still face harassment and ‘casual’ sexism. It horrifies most men, but it’s still worryingly common. Great progress has been made, without a shadow of a doubt. Last year women overtook men in terms of the numbers of practising lawyers in England and Wales.
But what can be done?
Well, if you’re a man and the above surprises you, get involved. Sign up for the First 100 Years or similar events. Show your support visibly. Events and activities which you might think ‘aren’t for you’ are often far more welcoming than you might expect. And it’s often far easier to chat to people at networking events with a gender balance than those dominated by one gender.
If you’re a man and this all doesn’t surprise you, why aren’t you doing something about it? Call out bad behaviour and discrimination where it exists on any grounds. Whether it be race, sexuality, gender or anything else. And get involved.
One thing we’re helping with is looking at the major contract forms. With industry associations, we’re asking why there are still contracts in 2019 using the male possessive pronoun? Why, instead of saying ‘he’ or ‘his’ does the contract not refer too ‘it’ or ‘its’? We know there are plenty of people of both genders who agree with that.
Those of you who’ve met us will know that Annie and I are far from being ‘bleeding heart liberals’. But we’re certain there’s work to be done for diversity and inclusion. It needs to start with everyone getting involved.
Hopefully, the next 100 years will be even more progressive. And ultimately good networking and good business is all about getting everyone involved.
Sincere thanks to Annie and @500wordlawyer for help in preparing this.