Gender balance among practising barristers “unlikely ever to be achieved”, Bar Council report warns

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22 July 2015

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Practising barristers from BAME backgrounds could reach 20% within 10 years

An equal gender balance among practising barristers is “unlikely ever to be achieved” if current trends continue, a Bar Council report has warned.

The report found that the “lower propensity” of women to move into practice and “higher attrition rate” in practice meant that only if almost 60% of those called to the Bar were women would equality then prevail in the ranks of practising barristers.

However, the report also found that the Bar would achieve “in the near future” its target of 20% BAME representation among practising barristers – well ahead of the population as a whole.

Later, but in a “relatively short time horizon”, the Bar would achieve this target among barristers of more than 15 years call, although not among QCs.

Entitled Momentum Measures, the report by Professor Martin Chalkley, was commissioned last year by the Bar Council’s equality, diversity and social mobility committee to try and find out when the profession might reflect the population profile of England and Wales.

Professor Chalkley, based at the University of York, said that although the Bar Council collected data on other protected characteristics, such as sexual orientation, sufficient data was “not yet available” to enable “meaningful modelling”.

The professor said his findings had “potential policy implications”. He went on: “In respect of gender balance, they indicate that future action might need to be directed at either increasing further representation of women at call to the Bar or in reducing attrition and increasing conversion from call to practice.

“In respect of ethnicity they indicate that most aggregate targets (except for QCs) have already been achieved or are imminent and that it may be necessary to focus on smaller, under-represented ethnic groups rather than all BAME groups together.”

Professor Chalkley said there had been a “clear movement” towards gender equality at call, with a 50:50 balance achieved as long ago as 2000 and having been maintained ever since.

There was no evidence of women being under-represented “in the attainment of pupillage” and in fact there was a “slight imbalance” in favour of them.

The professor also found that there had been a “steady increase” in the proportion of female working age barristers, from 36% to 44%. However, the proportion of women with a practising certificate was still only 35%.

Professor Chalkley said his “key assumptions” were that the proportion of female barristers at call would remain at around 50%, and that women would continue to be less likely to convert into practice than men and be more likely to leave.

He said that calculations indicated that even 75 years from now, the proportion of female practising barristers would not reach 50%, and that to achieve it around 58% of those called to the Bar would need to be women.

In contrast, the professor predicted a “rapid increase” in the proportion of BAME practising barristers, “from the current 17% level towards 20% and beyond within 10 years”.

Despite the risks of incomplete data and under-reporting, “momentum in respect of ethnicity seems secure”.

Professor Chalkley said the practising Bar was “closer to gender balance in BAME practitioners than in white British practitioners”.

He added: “In this sense a move towards greater ethnicity balance is conducive to achieving greater gender balance, and vice versa.”

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