In a guest blog for the Bar Council, the Co-Chair of the Western Circuit Women’s Forum Emma Cross explains its remit, research and campaigns.
The Western Circuit Women’s Forum (WCWF) was set up eight years ago in response to rising concerns regarding a stark lack of representation for women in senior roles, including at silk level and within the judiciary.
In a groundbreaking report, ‘Back to the Bar’, the WCWF’s research on Circuit demonstrated that a higher proportion of women were leaving the Bar after taking career breaks, particularly parental leave breaks. The first-hand accounts the WCWF heard from women at the Bar also demonstrated a sense of low morale and a degree of burnout being felt at trying to sustain ever busier practices alongside caring responsibilities.
The WCWF made a number of key recommendations in its first report for Chambers and the bench to consider and put into practice. The WCWF set up a mentoring scheme for every barrister under ten years call to be paired up with a mentor over ten years’ call.
The WCWF has since published a number of follow-up reports, particularly in the wake of Covid-19, reminding Chambers and the judiciary of the need to ‘Consider the Carers’, especially when listing cases and in response to consultations regarding the introduction of ‘flexible working/extended operating hours’.
More recently, the WCWF has set up ‘Career Progression Mentoring’ where members of Circuit can approach the WCWF with specific queries and they are put in touch with a barrister who is able to assist with their particular query.
Alongside its research and campaigns, the WCWF has held regular events over the years which bring barristers from all levels of call and practice together to meet up socially and also to discuss the issues currently affecting them. The WCWF has been joined by Presiding High Court Judges, local members of the judiciary and senior barristers to deliver talks as part of panel and conference events aimed at providing hints, tips and pointers for members of Circuit as well as opportunities to network afterwards.
The WCWF holds online events to enable those with caring responsibilities to more easily attend and take part. The WCWF has also held events aimed directly at improving wellbeing on Circuit including laughter yoga, talks by LawCare and social events to bring everyone together online and in person.
The WCWF is proud of its track record and continues to provide support to and undertake research into current factors impacting on women’s practices and to look for solutions which not only help individual practices but also help to promote wellbeing on Circuit.
Emma Cross is a barrister at Magdalen Chambers specialising in public law children cases. She is co-Chair of the Western Circuit Women’s Forum alongside Selena Plowden KC and runs Bar None’s school outreach programme for Devon and Cornwall.
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