A guest blog by Sara Carnegie explaining the '50:50 by 2030' global gender project.

This International Women’s Day, the International Bar Association (IBA) Legal Policy and Research Unit celebrates its work in gender equality and the advances made in this area in the legal profession, whilst acknowledging there is much still to do.

50:50 by 2030: a project with extraordinary scope
The IBA 50:50 by 2030 Gender Project, in collaboration with the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation, is a first-of-its-kind nine-year global study on gender equality in the law.

The project is identifying barriers and tracking progress in achieving equal representation of women at the highest levels of all sectors of the law across 16 jurisdictions. It is focusing on the proportion of women in senior roles in public, private, judicial and in-house sectors, identifying diversity measures introduced to address gender disparity, and determining how effective they are.

The project is extraordinary in scope, and promises to be ground-breaking in its findings.

Women still constitute a far smaller proportion at senior level than their male counterparts. Why?
Current research shows that females make up the majority of law students and graduates globally, but this is not reflected in the statistics of those working at senior levels, where women still constitute a far smaller proportion than their male counterparts.

The project seeks to understand and address this gap via a longitudinal study and provide practical conclusions and guidance to the global legal profession. This is one way that our profession can support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality.

Since the project was launched, three reports have been published: England and Wales, Uganda, and Spain. Further reports on Nigeria, the Netherlands, Chile, the UAE, South Korea and the US will be published this year.

In England and Wales, 51% of all lawyers are female, but only 32% of lawyers in senior roles are female; these figures are echoed in Spain where 54% of all lawyers are female, but make up only 31% of senior lawyers. In Uganda 49% of all lawyers are women, and 40% of all senior lawyers.

One sector stands out in our research...
The public sector appears to offer an environment where women thrive and are fairly represented at all levels. Initiatives are making a difference and there is balance. In all three jurisdictions the public sector has the highest number of women working in senior positions, in England and Wales 57% of lawyers in a senior role are female.

International Women’s Day allows us to celebrate the economic, political, social, and professional achievements of women around the world. The IBA has its first female President in 20 years, Almudena Arpón de Mendívil, who has made gender equality in the legal profession one of her priority focus areas during her 2-year presidency.

A stronger female presence at the highest levels of our profession in numbers that at least match the numbers of men is necessary. The global legal community must lead by example. 

Justice is served more effectively by diversity, so why are women still woefully underrepresented?
Despite the talents of so many women, we still fail to reach the most senior positions across the legal sector due to discriminatory obstacles placed in our paths. This clashes with the principles defended by our profession. We need to be committed and constant in our efforts to raise awareness and challenge the status quo – embracing equity in every sense.

The first step towards bringing about positive change relies on having a good understanding of reality and the project will explore the gender-related challenges and efficacy of existing solutions.

Outcomes are improved when we have diverse voices, to draft legislation and policy, to implement and interpret laws, to negotiate deals, to litigate, to defend, and to judge. Justice is served more effectively by diversity. While we acknowledge this to be a truism, we appear to have stagnated in our efforts to bring about meaningful change.

Women are still woefully underrepresented at the most senior levels of the judiciary, the bar and in private practice. This is noteworthy compared with the high numbers entering the profession.

Hostile and exhausting: the work environment must change
Women are told that they have agency to choose to return to work after having children, that there are support mechanisms in place and flexibility is now ‘de rigeur.’ However, if the environment is hostile and exhausting, micro-aggressions abound and commercial processes are non-conducive to work-life balance, is it surprising that many leave or stagnate? Workplace support may also be lacking later in their careers when taking on other caring responsibilities or experiencing menopause, leading many to call it quits.

Studies over recent years show this to be a pattern which is not changing.

Our work will track data over the decade and identify where women are represented appropriately at all levels. We will champion effective initiatives, and encourage lawyers, law firms and bars to acknowledge the importance and value of equality and do more to achieve it; to prioritise their efforts and make true equality a reality in each sector so every woman feels valued and able to reach her potential.

Sara Carnegie is a Red Lion Consultant and Director of Legal Projects at the International Bar Association.