‘We can do more and do it better’: legal profession marks International Women’s Day

IBA launches new event to guide young women lawyers as Law Society underscores need to address remaining inequities around pay disparity and career progression

Almudena Arpón de Mendívil Aldama Image courtesy of the International Bar Association

The International Bar Association has marked International Women’s Day 2023 with the launch of a new event intended to guide young women lawyers, as the Law Society of England & Wales highlights remaining inequities around pay and career progression.

The inaugural IBA Women’s Day event will take place today (8 March), with experienced women legal professionals sharing their experiences with their junior counterparts via a series of fireside chats and panel discussions in several jurisdictions across the world. 

IBA president, Almudena Arpón de Mendívil Aldama, commented: “Women in law can achieve senior positions, they must dare to do so, their merits do matter for that purpose. This first celebration aims at giving visibility to women who are successful in their careers in the legal sector across the world, demonstrating that success is attainable and connecting them, thus multiplying the impact of the message.

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“Experiences will be shared with younger practitioners allowing them to recognise challenges they may be facing in order to advance in their path to senior positions, offering them potential solutions,” she said, adding that she hoped the event would “become an annual fixture in our Association’s calendar.”

The IBA’s event will begin at 14:30 Central European Time, when the lead partners of each jurisdiction will connect online with Arpón de Mendívil, who assumed the IBA presidency in January, becoming the first woman in 20 years to hold the role.. 

The new event follows the IBA launching the ‘50/50 by 2030’ project – a longitudinal study into gender disparity in law – on International Women’s Day 2021. The nine-year global project aims to uncover the root-causes of the lack of gender parity at the most senior levels of the legal profession and identify whether diversity initiatives introduced to address this disparity are having any impact. It also aims to provide practical conclusions and guidance to the profession. The IBA’s Legal Policy & Research Unit and the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation are collaborating on the surveys and analysis. 

The Women and Diversity in Law Awards, which are hosted by GLP, take place on 21 March in London

Meantime, the Law Society of England & Wales has said the profession must use International Women’s Day as a springboard to overcome barriers and progress women solicitors to senior levels.

Law Society president, Lubna Shuja, commented: “This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity, where the world needs to understand the difference between equity and equality and why equal opportunities are not enough.” 

Research by the society found issues with pay and retention of women, who make up 53% of practising solicitors but only 35% of partner. Its analysis of the national gender pay gap of some of the largest 50 UK law firms also showed the median pay gap was 32.4%, which it noted would have been larger had partner pay been included. 

Firms are losing brilliant solicitors on the cusp of senior leadership, Shuja said, due to a combination of unfair work allocation, promotion tracks that continue to favour career paths traditonally followed by men and the challenge women face balancing professional obligations with their personal responsibilities. In order to protect and retain the best diverse talent, she added, the profession must lead with clear policies and inclusive workplace cultures that promote flexible working, alternative progression paths and support for women returning to the profession after family/career breaks. 

“The role of men in the conversation is also key. We are seeing more men taking up shared parental leave policies and adapting their working patterns for their own wellbeing. Along with alternative methods of entry into the profession, this change of mindset will allow the whole workforce to thrive within an inclusive workplace.”

She urged Society members to sign up to its Women in Law Pledge, which requires signatories to commit to senior level accountability for progressing gender equality. 

The Society has also launched a diversity and inclusion framework and offers support and advice to women in the legal profession through its Women Solicitors Network. 

“We have made great progress since the first women solicitors 100 years ago, but we can do more and do it better," Shuja said. “This International Women’s Day, we should reflect on how we can collectively contribute to this change.”

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