Sam Mercer, the Bar Council's Head of Equality & Diversity and CSR, sets out three initiatives the Bar Council will be focusing on in 2019 to support the profession in becoming a more diverse Bar in the future.
Whilst the 100-year anniversary presents a fantastic opportunity to celebrate progress, we're well aware of the challenges still facing women across the Bar. As you will have picked up from media activity to date, the Bar Council's focus for 2019 is looking forward to the next 100 years and what meaningful actions we can take to tackle these challenges. We believe this is the best contribution we can make to mark the centenary.
Having worked closely with barristers on this agenda for the last six years, I am confident we have in place policies to support and enable women to practise, particularly in a chambers context. I work every day with chambers' staff, clerks, Equality & Diversity Officers (EDOs) and others who devote huge amounts of time and energy to getting policies on subjects like flexible working, shared parental leave, harassment, fair recruitment and monitoring of unassigned work right. And it is not always easy to make progress, particularly when the incomes of those operating in publicly funded practice have been squeezed - making it ever harder to make a living.
At the Bar Council itself, we try to keep track of what the Bar needs with respect to education (offering a wide range of training from basic equality & diversity to harassment) and advice ( published guides/policies and via the telephone helpline/email) etc. In promoting diversity however, there is unfortunately, no single magic bullet - no one individual initiative - that will provide an instant fix. We need to push, tweak and nudge multiple levers across many areas.
Going forward, in my view, there are three areas we need to focus on.
The first is continuing to work with the profession to address any policy/practice gap (chambers/others may not always get it right and aren't always as supportive in practice as they may initially appear).
Secondly, we need to continue effective lobbying to minimise the negative impacts of some of the initiatives associated with court reform (reducing the scope of the flexible operating hours pilots was a win here) and there is more to do, including, for example, with listing practices.
Then thirdly, campaigning specifically around issues like the 'Sitting Hours Protocol' which aims to give counsel greater certainty over their working day and caring arrangements; as well as the concept of 'Equitable Briefing' - an approach already being tested in Australia - which looks at challenging current practices to ensure fairer briefing (who gets briefed, and on what). This could involve us also working with the Law Society to challenge both lay and professional clients - it is worth noting some Magic Circle law firms are already monitoring gender with respect to their briefing practices! That said, this work needs to be driven by the Bar to ensure it acknowledges the unique model of working within the profession. We also need to continue with our focus on bullying & harassment - encouraging and supporting individuals who come forward.
Success and change isn't going to be achieved overnight and our work programme will extend beyond 2019, but if we get it right we believe everyone - both men and women - will benefit, and we will have played our part in helping to support a diverse profession facing its next hundred years.
We welcome views on our plans. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, please email SMercer@barcouncil.org.uk