The Loss of Women in the Legal Profession

Achieving equality

David J. Bilinsky

The Loss of Women in the Legal Profession

♫ Bangin’ your head all day long
against the glass ceiling
Lauralee made her mind up, she had enough
She jumped the fence right there
And then to go someplace she’s never been
She waived the nine to five a big goodbye... ♫

— Music, lyrics by Bettis, Farren, Wells;
recorded by Jo Dee Marie Messina
.

In 1993, the CBA commissioned the Task Force on Gender Equality in the Legal Profession, chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Bertha Wilson. This Task Force’s main focus was on gender equality; it also addressed issues concerning Aboriginal women and women from subordinate racialized groups.

How much has changed in the 27 years since this Task Force?

According to lifeinlaw.ca, quoting from the Mapping Her Path Data Collection and Analysis Report 2016, prepared by The Justice Education Society of BC:

  • 37% of lawyers in BC are women, even though women make up more than 50% of law school graduates;
  • 71% of women lawyers who quit their jobs cite work-life balance as the reason and 61% describe the work environment as a contributing factor to their decisions;
  • 66% of women called to the Bar in 2003 were still practising in 2008 compared to 80% of men; and
  • 29% of the women lawyers who have left practice, quit their law careers entirely.

In 2019, Forbes released its list of Most Innovative Leaders (bit.ly/bt1020-pt1). Of the 100 names on the list, only one was a woman and there were no women of colour or LGBTQ women represented.

While some progress has been made in gender equality, there is still considerable room for improvement.

How much longer until we break the glass ceiling? 50 years at the highest executive levels, according to new research from The Myers-Briggs Company around gender, diversity and management.” (from research released in 2020: prn.to/2QH8pco).

What can be done? Justicia in BC has produced a number of model policies around Flexible Work Arrangements, Parental Leave and Respectful Workplace Model Policies (bit.ly/bt1020-pt2).

However, paper documents only go so far. Lawyers from Harper Grey LLP have created a new forum
LifeinLaw.ca to counter the attrition rate of female lawyers. They offer a confidential, independent mentoring service outside of a law-firm setting and aim to help women succeed in their legal careers, even as they juggle life and family responsibilities and personal priorities.

The CBA’s Women’s Lawyers Forum (bit.ly/bt1020-pt3) develops programs, plans and initiatives for women in the legal profession across Canada.

Katie Burke, Chief People Officer, Hubspot, writing in Forbes, lists five ways to promote women and give them the recognition they deserve (bit.ly/bt1020-pt4):

  1. Cite women in business presentations. Reference women leaders in presentations and highlight their perspectives.
  2. Take a hard look at who you follow. Look at your social media feeds and see if you can improve the gender, racial, socioeconomic, geographic, or other form of diversity of whom you read.
  3. Update your imagery. Look at your firm’s website, jobs page, publications and marketing materials and look at how women are represented. Be thoughtful about the composition of the imagery and what it conveys about gender and leadership at your firm.
  4. Change the face of Wikipedia. In 2016, just 17% of Wikipedia entries were about women. Pick your favourite female lawyer or judge and consider updating Wikipedia to feature their profile using Wikipedia’s public guidelines.
  5. Drop the mic. At your next meeting, firm presentation, shareholder or partner meeting ensure that women get to present or speak publicly and without interruption.

Hopefully over the next 27 years we can make the legal profession much more representative in terms of gender equality and stop the flow of women lawyers jumping the fence and waiving a legal career a big goodbye.

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