Harry Potter star Emma Watson urges men to step up in gender equality push

Hollywood actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador was talking at the IBA Annual Conference in Miami
A photo of Emma Watson, her dad Chris Watson and the IBA's Sara Carnegie

Emma Watson (centre) with the IBA's Sara Carnegie (left) and Chris Watson Photo courtesy of the IBA

Harry Potter actress Emma Watson added a touch of stardom to the IBA Diversity and Inclusion Council’s session on gender diversity in the legal profession at the IBA conference in Miami on Tuesday.

Addressing a standing-room-only audience, Watson – together with her father CMS Cameron McKenna partner Chris Watson, the council’s co-chair – was part of a distinguished panel including IBA president-elect Almudena Arpón de Mendí of Madrid firm Gomez Acebo & Pompo Abogados and chaired by the IBA’s Sara Carnegie.

Carnegie introduced Watson senior by saying, “I can assure everyone that he’s not been picked for this just because of who his daughter is,” to general laughter. Both father and daughter spoke eloquently about the importance of gender equality and representation, with Watson senior stressing the importance of female mentorship to his career and to others.

“Women will not be able to lean into public life, professional roles and public roles, unless men step into the hole [then] created in the home,” his daughter told the IBA Daily News.

“Having a father that championed me and was liberal with his love and praise, time and attention made a huge difference to my confidence as a young woman, so I hope that men don’t underestimate their impact on their children and homes and the legacy they will leave,” she said.

Important though the Harry Potter star was in generating awareness, two IBA speakers – Arpón de Mendí and Carnegie – left delegates in no doubt about the significance the IBA places on this issue. Arpón de Mendi – who will be the first female IBA president in 20 years from January 2023 – said gender equality needs male support, echoing Watson’s concerns.

Championing the IBA’s 50:50 by 2030 project – a study of gender disparities in law that records the progress of women into senior leadership positions over nine years across a range of jurisdictions – Arpón de Mendi said the lessons learned would inform IBA policy. She also plans to appoint regional ambassadors to champion the gender equality project.

Carnegie, meanwhile, highlighted excerpts from the research, which showed that only 30% of female law leaders held senior leadership positions in private practice.

Flexible working arrangements were considered essential for leveraging greater representation, as were proper childcare, work-life balance and managing the impact of menopause. Also considered was the need for more inclusive and supportive law firm cultures, echoing themes from a recent MD Communications research report.

The American Bar Association’s Michelle Behnke highlighted difficulties for black women lawyer leaders in rising to positions of responsibility, alongside other issues affecting racial and ethnic diversity across the US legal profession.

Equality, concluded Arpón de Mendí, is not just a discrete matter of law but lays at the centre of law itself, echoing comments from LexisNexis’s Ian McDougall that equality is not just a moral duty but also in a law firm’s best interests.

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