Being a Woman in Law

This year, international women’s day coincided with this year being the 100th year since women were allowed in law in the UK. Seeing all the posts up about remarkable women and what they have done to pave the way for women in society both at home and in work, inside and outside of the legal industry, makes me proud to be a woman today.

But, as so many campaigns showed, the fight is not over. The struggle for women is still very real across the globe.

And one of these in particular is the struggle to get women into leadership in top businesses, banks and law firms.

Macfarlanes came under scrutiny last week for failing to balance out its women-male partner ratio, promoting only one woman compared to eight men in its latest promotion set.

Macquarie Group saw women earn 60% less per hour than men in median terms within their corporate department. The bonus gap sat at 83% (huuuuge) with 90% of the top paid jobs being male (ouch).

Women are perceived across the globe as being just not good enough. Negative perceptions of women and the role that women should take affect the prospects of women everywhere.

Harvard Business Group did a study on 81,000 performance reviews and found that there were more negative words used to describe female leadership than male. Negativity towards women is not just limited to jobs and promotions but also to the very language that is used to desribe women.

I am not alone in having grown up with negative language as a woman surrounding the fact that I always prioritised work and ambition above other aspects of my life.

Teachers, school friends, boyfriends, all had diverse opinions on my motivation to go far with my career and to study hard. The amount of times I have heard men referred to as ‘career-oriented’, ‘hard-working’ and ‘ambitious’, when I have been told the same qualities make me ‘anti-social’, ‘intimidating’ and ‘standoffish’.

I was told that being so focused on my own work and not comparing myself to others made me seem ‘too independent’ which put others off being friends with me.

When I got to uni, I started signing up for volunteering opportunities and entering essay competitions in my spare time; and even that managed to become something negative. I was constantly met with quips from people saying I was missing out on the true university experience and would regret not having just had fun when I was older. 

When I got my training contract people kept feeling the need to tell me how much I would struggle to stay on full time, or even in work, should I ever have children.

All things that people would not dare say to men, or have never been considered relevant to men.

And it saddened me because –

All the qualities that made me me;

All the choices I had been able to make,

Like throwing myself into my education –

Getting to go to university,

Being considered enough, in fact, more than enough – as a woman to go into law, to one day become a lawyer –

To know that my place in the world should be whatever I choose, and not what I’m told, or what is assumed for me –

These were all things that other women had fought for women to be able to have – and I, like many other women, still have to face the fallback of people who criticise women for making those choices despite the fact that so many of us are working so hard to change this perception.

I am thankful for all the women before me who paved the way for me to be able to do what I can today; and I am thankful for all the women who are with me today, joined in a movement that is still ongoing to demonstrate that –

women can be ambitious and not intimidating,

women can be successful and not selfish, that women can be passionate and not just emotional,

that women can be dreamers as well as realists, lawyers as well as entrepreneurs. 

That women can bring as much as and even more than what anyone has managed before us.

I am proud to be here today, with an army of women proving to the world that we are good enough to do whatever we dream, until one day we won’t have to prove what we have always known we are worth.

I hope that the girls and women that come after me will be able to live in a world where there is no marker for being a woman, no marker for proving your good enough, no need to work harder because you’re a woman, no need to fight harder because you’re a woman. The marker will be just being a woman. That should be good enough on its own.

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