Valerie Charbit
Valerie Charbit

For International Women's Day 2022, Valerie Charbit suggests there is already kindness at the Bar but we need to create more of it.

Inclusion of women at the Bar has been something the Circuits and specialist bar associations have long sought to improve.

Diversity at the bar has been improving over a considerable period of time and the fact that the proportion of female barristers entering the profession has grown substantially in recent years is worth celebrating. However, part of diversity is encouraging women not only to begin a career at the Bar but to find a way to make it a lifelong career if they so choose.

How we support women at the bar has been the subject of various reports but retention of women is still a problem. There are clearly issues still to address – for example whether women are able to achieve the same earnings as men at the bar.

The fact that the legal profession is now seeking to embrace home working, remote working, and the employment by law firms of Chief Happiness Officers, might provide some comfort for those working in a stressful and demanding profession and indicate how things might be starting to progress and improve. However, longer working hours and more demands upon us all, against the background of world events now comprising of a global pandemic and a possible World War 3, do little to improve our wellbeing.  

Barristers at their best offer unconditional support to junior barristers and colleagues. They also positively and significantly impact daily current affairs by advocating for the disadvantaged or by doing pro bono work. There is already a heritage of kindness at the Bar - what we need to do is create more of it.

Just as we want to engage in life to make a difference to our loved ones, it is also apparent that as human beings at work, we feel happiest when that work allows us the opportunities to treat others well, be treated well, to value others and to feel valued ourselves.

Courtesy and civility in the workplace are the bedrock of kindness in the workplace.

Against such a background though, our current circuit leaders were recently celebrated because we have for the first time had four women leading the way on all four circuits. There is a good reason for this celebration. Women who reach the top of their profession do so because they are truly excellent at what they do. We need to make sure there are more of them. Women make good leaders very often because they have highly developed skills from a combination of their working life and home life responsibilities. This in turn can mean that they are particularly well-positioned to lead and help others. Women may do so with the support of men, but it is women’s resilience and their awareness and ability to relate to others that enhances the fact that they can be kind to others and spread kindness.

The Bar Council Working Group on wellbeing, now chaired by Rebecca Dix with the Vice Chair and upcoming leader, Nicola Shannon, have agreed that I may lead a project in the forthcoming year, working with Professor Banerjee from Sussex University (Founder of Sussex Kindness Research) whereby we will seek to co-create with barristers, using focus groups, on how we can bring more Kindness to the Bar.

The various reports we have been analysing make a strong case for this initiative. Professor Banerjee’s partnership with the BBC on the Anatomy of Kindness is about to announce the results of the biggest ever public science project on kindness starting this week. We hope to use this experience and knowledge to co-create a program on how to enhance the best of the Bar and develop ‘Kindness at the Bar’ in the workplace.

The South Eastern Circuit and Criminal Bar Association asked Professor Banerjee to speak to us in November 2021 to explore whether we could bring Kindness to the Bar as an ethos in our workplaces to improve wellbeing for the bar and judiciary. The evening was supported by the senior Presiding Judge of the South Eastern Circuit, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, the leader of the South Eastern Circuit, Christine Agnew QC and the leader of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu QC, as well as the Chair of the Bar Council’s Working Group on Wellbeing Theo Huckle QC.

If there was a case to be made it is evident from the recent and relevant reports from the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board. They make a strong case for bringing more kindness to the Bar. Women have an important stake in this because analysis shows they have the most to gain. The various reports show that women are more adversely affected by different wellbeing issues than their male counterparts. With ideas garnered from barristers in all areas of the profession, this project may pave the way to ensure we create a kinder world in our working lives, which in turn will enhance our wellbeing at work and at home.

Valerie Charbit is a barrister at Red Lion Chambers.

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