Updated: Oct 26
In a series of articles, we discuss topical issues facing industry leaders, all through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (D, E & I).
“Look Up and Beyond” is a new group formed by Diversity+ to help better understand the barriers preventing women from reaching leadership positions and to find solutions to retain and promote more female talent in the legal sector and beyond. The initiative was launched earlier this month, and here one of our co-founders, Angela Fyfe, shares her insights on why this initiative matters and where we go from here.
The legal profession has made significant progress over the last 20 years with women joining the profession in greater numbers than men, with 57% of solicitors now being female according to Law Society of Scotland Diversity Data for 2022/23. However, there is a high incidence of gender perception, lower level of remuneration, an underrepresentation of women at the Bar, at equity partner level in private firms, and in leadership and decision-making roles.
Why does it matter? The law is built on principles of justice, fairness and equality. If we are not practising diversity and equality in so far as the individuals in decision-making and leadership roles is concerned, we may not be practising fairness, and justice may not be served. Women’s experiences for biological, cultural, historical and social reasons are different to those of men. Women bring a different perspective because they have different experiences. Consequently, their reasoning and decision-making may differ to that of their male colleagues. Ruth Bader Ginsburg conveyed that in her role as a Supreme Court Justice of the United States, she regarded herself as a law school teacher to colleagues who had not had the experience of growing up female and did not fully understand the barriers that have been put in women’s way. Discussing cases and business decisions with colleagues who are women will encourage men to take account of different experiences and they may make different decisions to the ones they would have made but for the voices of the women at the table. When women are not in the highest positions, they lack the influence to make change. The law would therefore function differently if there were more women in leadership and decision-making roles, and at the top. It is in the interests of society as a whole for the law at every level to practise equity and to be as diverse as the society which it serves. This is the reason I am ‘Looking Up and Beyond’. What are the benefits? Involving both men and women in decision-making broadens the perspectives, increases creativity and innovation, diversifies the pool of talents and competencies, reduces conflicts, and improves the process of decision-making’. (The United Nations Women’s Participation in Decision Making: Why it Matters).
Studies have shown that including women in leadership roles is associated with better economic performance, increased productivity, enhanced collaboration and improved fairness.
Women at the top attract more women at all levels of business, and inspires future generations, creating a cycle of equity and diversity.
As a profession, we serve all of society, not a specific demographic. It is imperative that the public see a profession which is diverse at all levels. A diverse profession not only provides consumers with greater choice but also enables private firms to gain new clients, the legal sector to better serve the public, and increases public confidence in the profession as a whole. As Lady Hale has stated ‘Simply hoping that the women will ‘trickle up’ has not been good enough’. What can we do? We can identify and understand the barriers which limit the career progression of women and prevent them advancing within law, and take proactive steps to address the barriers and challenges. Firms can analyse the data they hold and engage to understand specifically why women are not progressing to senior, leadership and decision-maker roles, or leaving, and develop a strategy for change. As a profession we can undertake a study of women in the profession to give us the data and analytical understanding of the problem to identify solutions. We can build a profession that supports women by providing them with equal opportunities for career development, advancement and leadership roles. This may include ensuring conscious inclusion within succession, promotion and development approaches, and allocation of tasks in a non-discriminatory manner, to eliminate bias and ensure equality of opportunity at all levels. Empowered women can serve as role models, mentors and sponsors; providing support, guiding, encouraging, inspiring and motivating colleagues. Remote working and the increased use of technology in court proceedings has delivered many significant benefits at accelerated speed. However, one significant disadvantage is the consequential reduction in the opportunity to learn from colleagues in the office, court and agent’s room, and to build relationships. I know from my experience the immeasurable benefits of inspirational female role models in my local faculty, and listening and learning from others in the court room and agent’s room. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of having a mentor who understands you, and supports, encourages, guides and challenges. The women and men within the profession, often from different backgrounds to my own, who have been generous with their time and mentored me, have been pivotal to my professional development and career advancement. Structured and competent mentoring for women by women in the profession would have a significant part to play in the retention and advancement of women within the profession. We can raise awareness about conscious and unconscious bias and stereotypes surrounding gender inequality, and adopt and implement policies that tackle gender inequality. This may include offering and promoting remote, flexible working to all to support the navigation of a work-life balance. If there is a willingness to embrace flexible working for all within an organisation, it will become the norm, and will eliminate any sense that lip service is being paid to the policy, or it is an inconvenience that is being tolerated. Encouraging part-time work for all will also normalise part-time work and prevent inherent biases against those who choose to work part-time. What must be avoided is a two-tier system whereby there is preferential treatment for presenteeism in the office. We can build a community for women to network, connect and share experiences, expertise and perspectives; to nurture ambition by supporting, developing and promoting talent within the profession, and encourage collaboration. This may include targeted development support workshops and specific events. Organisations can support people to become better allies and promote gender allyship. For engagement in gender-parity initiatives male engagement is essential. This may include supportive and collaborative relationships, sponsorship and advocacy, to drive systematic improvements to the culture. We can deliver education and training which is focused specifically on female talent retention and progression as well as reattachment initiatives for those who take off-ramps and have a desire to rejoin the profession.
What do we need from you?
1. Your time
2. Your knowledge
3. Your commitment
4. Your resources
What can you do to support us? 1. Book our ‘retaining, promoting and reattaching female talent’ learning courses.
2. Collaborate with us to host events for your workplace and clients.
3. Sign up to our membership to receive helpful information and support for your existing and future female talent.
4. Engage with us. We would like to know about your experiences to help us to identify the challenges and barriers you have encountered or are encountering, to help us develop and assess a variety of solutions and initiatives, and raise awareness.
5. Collaborate with us to fund a study of women in the legal profession in Scotland. We would like to understand the factors which impede the retention and advancement of women, and why we are not more gender diverse at senior levels, to identify and implement solutions which will lead to an equitable future for the profession. Find out more about "Look Up and Beyond" here:
About the Author:
Angela Fyfe is an accredited family law specialist, Law Society of Scotland certified trauma-informed solicitor and trained collaborative lawyer. Angela is a member of the Law Society of Scotland Education and Training Committee. Angela was court partner at Stevenson and Marshall LLP from 2012 until May 2023.
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