Women Who Will: Women and leadership – a century of progress

Celebrating Women Who Will

It is crucial that we celebrate the successes of women in the law. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, “As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.”

To help shine a light on the women who have accomplished, and will continue to achieve, great things – Women Who Will 2022 shouts out  talented and inspirational women who are future female leaders in the law.

Congratulations to our Class of 2022! Thank you for sharing your stories and for the work you’re doing to build a better, more diverse, inclusive, and equitable legal profession for us all.


The women who have

As we navigate our way forward, it is also extremely valuable to celebrate the legal pioneers of the past. Building on the work of the First 100 Years project, our 2022 Women Who Will report marks the centenary of women playing an active role in the law.

One hundred years ago, in May 1922, Dr Ivy Williams became the first woman to be called to the Bar in England and Wales, followed closely by Helena Normanton in November 1922. That same year, Carrie Morrison, Maud Crofts, Mary Pickup, and Mary Sykes were the first four women to pass the Law Society examinations, paving the way for more women to become solicitors.


The women who will

The century that followed has witnessed many notable advances for women in law, including Baroness Hale being appointed as the first female President of the Supreme Court in 2017, and three successive women as Presidents of the Law Society. Compared to just a handful in 1922, women now make up 39% of barristers, 53% of solicitors, and 77% of Chartered Legal Executives of the legal profession as a whole.

However, there is still much more progress that needs to happen before we can say that all lawyers have equal opportunities, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities and more.

Where to from here? 5 key steps to consider


1. We need to remove barriers to leadership for women

In this year’s report, we look at how organisations can remove the roadblocks that prevent them from promoting and attracting more women into senior and leadership roles.

The proportion of women with more than 20 years’ experience is considerably lower than that of the profession as a whole; and we’re nowhere near gender parity in this area.

A key contributing factor is the so-called ‘broken rung’ at the first step of the ladder, where men are still getting more opportunities to advance, putting women on the back foot right from the beginning. McKinsey reports that for every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level to managerial roles, only 87 women, and 82 women of colour receive the same opportunities. This means there’s a much smaller pool of women available to promote to senior leadership positions.


2. We need more diverse role models

Women Who Will 2022 also explores how diversity at the top benefits the whole organisation. In a nutshell, this not only ensures visible role models who are more representative of the whole organisation, but also helps to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace that promotes everyone’s wellbeing.

Here’s why: research conducted by McKinsey in 2021 reveals that women in senior roles are twice as likely as men in senior roles to devote more time to DEI work that falls outside their remit. Women also put in 60% more effort than their male counterparts to support their colleagues’ emotional health.


3. We need to understand and account for the impact of intersectionality

Our report also highlights the reality that every woman experiences inequality, discrimination, and disadvantage differently. If we want to elevate current and future female leaders in the law, we need to acknowledge that women are not a homogenous group. Each individual faces unique hurdles and prejudices based on dynamics such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability, and so forth.

While we have made many strides in better supporting female leaders in the law, we need to recognise that these efforts have largely benefited white women. In 2020, the World Economic Forum found that while white women will reach gender parity with men in the US by 2059, Black women will only achieve this by 2130, and Hispanic women in 2224. Evidently, we must take a more nuanced look at how inequality manifests for different women, so we can chart a meaningful path forward.


4. We need to embrace non-traditional working models as a force for good

The pandemic forced our industry – like many others – to reimagine the traditional working model. As an organisation that has been championing a flexible, #HumanFirst working environment for decades, we are encouraged to see flexible, remote, part-time, or hybrid working patterns being embraced across the industry.

However, when rethinking the traditional working model, it is important to proceed with care. In our report, we touch on how organisations can avoid the pitfalls and make the most of the opportunities for women working in the law.


5. We must continue shining a spotlight on mental wellbeing

While there has certainly been a greater focus on mental health concerns in the legal profession recently, this is an issue that persists and needs our constant attention.

LawCare’s 2021 Life in the Law report revealed high levels of burnout among legal professionals, with 69% of respondents saying they had experienced mental-ill health in the last year. In our report, we discuss how re-examining long-entrenched cultures and working practices in the law can be part of the solution.

Supporting Women Who Will

These are just some of the ways we can continue pushing forward to bring about change and build a legal profession where female leaders – and all those working in the law – experience true equality.

Our Women Who Will Report builds on the Next 100 Years campaign’s work to capture the inspirational stories of today’s pioneering women lawyers. Obelisk Support is proud to be a founding sponsor of this project, which is dedicated to encouraging collaboration across the profession, improving the visibility of women in law, and supporting the women lawyers of the future.

To meet the women who are driving our profession forward, access our Women Who Will 2022 report.

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