Photographs of five women barristers next to the words #InspireInclusion and International Women's Day 2024


The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion. We asked the women chairs of Bar Council’s committees to tell us who inspires them and what they – and their committees – are doing to inspire the next generation of women at the Bar.

Answering our questions are: Amrit Kaur Dhanoa, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee; Samantha Singer, Co-Chair of the Pro Bono and Social Responsibility Committee; Heidi Stonecliffe KC, Chair of the Employed Barristers’ Committee; Rachel Crasnow KC, Co-Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee; and Eleena Misra KC, Chair of the Law Reform Committee.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion – what does this mean to you?

Amrit Kaur Dhanoa: For me, it signifies a call to action for promoting diversity, equality, and respect for all individuals. It highlights the importance of fostering an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and included, irrespective of their background, identity, or experiences. We should celebrate the achievements of women from all walks of life, whilst recognising the ongoing efforts needed to break down barriers and to create a more inclusive society. 

Eleena Misra KC: Encouraging inclusion by leading from the front, by my actions not just my words.

Heidi Stonecliffe KC: Whilst this is the theme for International Women’s Day I believe that all of us, across all genders, have a collective responsibility to inspire others to succeed and to feel included in their chosen profession. It means positive action by everyone to ensure that diversity is achieved at all levels including senior positions in the judiciary and legal practice. If women see other women in senior roles, they will be inspired to achieve success themselves and that can only encourage a cycle of inclusion as others start and progress through their careers. 

Samantha Singer: Inspire inclusion, to me, means actively bringing women (and other typically under-represented groups) into professional environments in which they may not always have been invited or visible or audible. It involves looking around the table, or around the courtroom or arbitration room, and asking where are the women? Sometimes asking this simple question can catalyse change.

Which women – real or fictional – have inspired you in your career as a barrister and why/how?

Heidi Stonecliffe KC: Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been a huge inspiration to me. She once said: “Whatever you choose to do leave tracks”.  This sums up the idea of inspiring inclusion to me – your own personal achievements can have an immensely powerful influence on others who follow, who see what you have done and realise their own aspirations are achievable. Setting a tangible example to others makes a real difference to diversity within the profession.

Eleena Misra KC: I was fortunate to have a Middle Temple sponsor who then became my mentor and a precious friend and senior colleague in chambers, the late and great Caroline Harry Thomas QC. I loved to see how she managed a thriving and first-rate career at the Bar alongside her dearly loved family and children and caring responsibilities. She had a can-do approach that was effective but also realistic and everything she did she did with grace, kindness, and class.

When I came to have my two children, I was supported by great women in chambers who made me feel like everything would be fine and that I would continue to thrive whatever that looked like for me, and I have always tried to be that person for others too. I love being part of a dynamic and forward thinking set with many women in silk; it sets a particular tone on EDI matters and the friendship of fellow silks and other junior women is a very supportive thing for me.

As for fictional characters, I have always loved Jo from Little Women who marched to the beat of her own drum (excuse the pun!) and thought that the best way to live in the better world you imagine is to be part of creating it.

Samantha Singer: Baroness Hale, Lucy Stone KC and Weird Barbie. Baroness Hale is the ultimate trail blazer, and not only because she was the first woman Law Lord/Supreme Court Justice. Her route to the Supreme Court was interesting and different. Plus, she was a family lawyer (like me) so she’s my kind of gal.

Lucy Stone KC was a mentor in Chambers. There is almost nothing she would not do to lift up and take care of the junior women in Chambers.

Weird Barbie. Surely, no explanation needed?

What can each person do to inspire inclusion and make sure women are valued and included at the Bar?

Rachel Crasnow KC: I think the real message is for us all to put aside hierarchies and treat everyone – senior and junior; male and female; clerk, solicitor, judge, junior – as you would like to be treated.

Don’t make assumptions about how or when people work. Don’t assume a new father won’t take time off but a new mother will. Don’t assume because you are the most junior person your view won’t be listened to. But because breaking down barriers is easier if you are indeed senior, it is for the leaders of our profession – men and women – to act by example, and, in particular on IWD, to avoid talking down to women or talking across them and to really listen to their experience even if it does not mirror your own.

Amrit Kaur Dhanoa: Each member at the Bar can contribute to inspiring inclusion and ensuring women are valued and included by taking proactive steps. Here are examples of actions that can be taken:

  • Listen to and amplify the voices of women, especially those from under-represented groups, in meetings, discussions, and decision-making processes. Women must be encouraged to use their voice in all settings, for only then will we see true equality and the opportunity for all women to achieve their greatest potential.
  • Challenge stereotypes and biases whenever they encounter them, both personally and professionally.
  • Support initiatives that promote gender equality and provide resources for women's professional development and advancement.
  • Foster a culture of respect, collaboration, and support where all individuals feel valued and included, regardless of gender.
  • By providing support and resources, women can be empowered to overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential.

Samantha Singer: Ask questions about inclusion, especially where it seems lacking. This might seem simplistic but raising questions about how we do things can require some bravery in a traditional setting like ours. In my experience, asking open questions on inclusion is the best way to follow the late US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s, famous advice to “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you”.

The next step is data gathering. As lawyers, we know the power of strong evidence. Statistics can be the most powerful tool in motivating change and improvement.

What challenges do women still face in the barrister profession?

Samantha Singer: The Family Law Bar achieves well in terms of women joining the profession. What we need is better retention and representation higher up. For this, we need policies and approaches that allow women an even playing field and to remain vigilant to all the areas where unfairness creeps in. This includes pay, opportunities, parental leave, infertility, perimenopause and menopause and wellbeing.

What is your Bar Council committee doing to help inspire inclusion and help to promote women at the Bar?

Eleena Misra KC: The Law Reform Committee regularly audits its membership to check for any disparity of representation and to ensure we are alive to the need to be inclusive. I consult with my members over meeting times and events to ensure the greatest participation possible within the constraints of what my committee needs to do. I try to show respect for other responsibilities including caring ones. I have an amazing team of three Vice-Chairs, two of whom are women and one of whom is a man and all of them are great supporters of EDI objectives.

As we are supposed to represent the Bar, we try to be vigilant to ensure that this is what we are doing and that we are not working in a silo or echo chamber. As I am an employment and equalities silk, this, I hope, is second nature to me, but I can see my committee is also very tuned in in this regard. One of my excellent committee members is on maternity leave and I am quite clear her place is held for her, and she will be welcomed back when she is ready, and I have secured a brilliant barrister as maternity cover.

Many of the consultations we respond to touch on or engage directly with matters than affect women and I am proud of the work we have done on diverse areas ranging from surrogacy law to harassment. I am personally involved in work being done by the Bar Council to address increasing harassment of women at the Bar and liaising with other senior women at the Bar on the weighty topic of the gender earnings gap.

Heidi Stonecliffe KC: Charlotte Pope-Williams and Cdr Caroline Tuckett RN were both winners of the 2022 Employed Bar Awards, demonstrating how the Employed Barristers’ Committee (EBC) and the Bar Council are championing women at the employed Bar as leaders of their profession.

The employed Bar report includes in its recommendations supporting career progression by the way of mentoring programmes (the report shows that women employed barristers were more likely to have a mentor than male barristers – 21 women and 7 men, out of 28 – and to want a mentor), and tackling bullying discrimination and harassment, which disproportionately affects women. More than a quarter of women at the employed Bar (26.5 per cent) have experienced bullying and harassment at work in person, compared with 10.2 per cent of men. A total of 22.9 per cent of women at the employed Bar have experienced discrimination at work in person, as compared with 6 per cent of men.

The employed Bar is clearly an attractive option for women at the Bar, and the EBC is committed to ensuring that they have the same equality of opportunity as their male colleagues and that bullying, discrimination, and harassment, which is more likely to be experienced by women, is never acceptable in the workplace. The EBC has been working closely with BACFI and the Government Legal Department on initiatives to promote an inclusive culture at the employed Bar. The Bar Council’s Talk to Spot is available to all barristers who want to record or report a situation in which they have found themselves the target of bullying, discrimination, and harassment.

What is your message to inspire the next generation of women leaders at the Bar?

Samantha Singer: To quote the Barbie movie (which I do a lot), “it is literally impossible to be a woman”. Starting from that premise reminds us how we women should back ourselves given what we do, who (and how many) we do it for and that we often do it while in heels and dancing backwards, as Ginger Rogers pointed out. Women – and certainly woman at the Bar – deserve so much more credit (and awe, frankly). Remember this when the going gets tough. And try to practise that blokey skill of not being defined by the times things went pear-shaped.

Amrit Kaur Dhanoa: Believe in yourself and your potential, do not be afraid, and never underestimate the power of your voice. As women, we all have the opportunity to shape the future of the Bar for the next generation of women and drive positive change. We must support one another in times of success and in times of need and remember that progress is achieved when we uplift and empower each other.

Heidi Stonecliffe KC: Have confidence in your abilities and do not let anyone convince you that you cannot achieve something you have set out to do simply because you are a woman. Believe in the potential you have and believe that you have the tenacity and strength to take on new challenges and forge the way for others.


If you've been inspired to get involved with one of our committees, keep an eye on our vacancies page for opportunities to join a Bar Council committee or consider standing for election to Bar Council.