Irish Women Lawyers Association calls on the profession to #pressforchange

Cathy Smith
Cathy Smith

Cathy Smith, a barrister practising in employment and company law and a committee member of the Irish Women Lawyers Association, writes for Irish Legal News on International Women’s Day.

A woman, practising as a solicitor or a barrister in Ireland today does so in a vastly different environment than at any stage in the history of our professions. There are so many positive statistics which support this – more than 50 per cent of solicitors are women; 39 per cent of barristers are women; 35 per cent of judges are women. Recently women have been appointed to the most senior legal positions in public service. And yet, the Irish Woman Lawyers Association, on International Women’s Day adopts the international #pressforchange theme and enthusiastically encourages our members, their employers, the public and the government to now, more than ever, press for change.

We are on the cusp of significant societal change with the impact of the #metoo campaign extending into areas that may not have been initially anticipated. There are so many behaviours, in the workplace which are now being called out for being wrong or inappropriate. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report tells us that gender pay parity is over 200 years away. The significant gap between the earnings of men and women who perform the same work is no longer acceptable – including in the legal professions. The IWLA has made a submission as part of the Public Consultation into Gender Pay Gap reporting in Ireland in October 2017 and we remain involved in and committed to this process.

There is a significant lack of research in Ireland on the Gender Pay Gap. Current legislative proposals on Gender Pay Gap reporting seek to address this. As regards the legal sector, this lack of research is even more pronounced where many lawyers are self-employed, being either partners in law firms or self-employed barristers. While anecdotally people talk about the lack of parity in the professions, there is little research available to support these views. IWLA has expressly called for the inclusion of self-employed persons, including self-employed lawyers, in any reporting obligations which might be introduced for employers on the gender pay gap in their workplace. In addition, IWLA Committee member Professor Irene Lynch Fannon is involved in updating previous 2002 research on Women in Law, on a range of issues affecting women in the legal professions. Through these endeavours, IWLA aims to achieve a research based position where a proper informed conversation can finally take place to consider what the gender pay gap is in the legal professions, to identify the reasons for it and to consider how it can be resolved.

Research on its own will not however achieve change. IWLA continues to support women in their legal careers through our networking and education events, advocacy and advancement efforts. The Law & Women Mentoring programme which is run by the Law Society and the Bar of Ireland in collaboration with the Irish Women Lawyers Association, is currently in its third year and has been hugely successful.

For some time now, Irish girls and boys have been raised and educated to believe that gender is not a factor they need to consider when making their career choices. However, while a woman could choose her career and work hard within it to achieve great success, she still often needs to manoeuvre within a territory which has long been the domain of men. While it has for some time been dramatically better, for a woman to practise as a lawyer, than previously, this relative improvement is no longer enough. Despite having had access to legal careers in large numbers for a considerable period - why are there so few highly qualified and experienced women in the higher levels of our professions? Why are there less women who are equity partners in law firms than men? Why are there so few women practising as senior counsel (only 6 per cent)? Why are so many women leaving the bar after a few years of practice? Why are there less women appointed as judges than men? Why is the gender pay gap in the legal sector so significant?

On International Women’s Day 2018, the Irish Women Lawyers Association no longer simply wants to ask these questions. We want to answer them. To do so we all need to Press for Change together.

  • Find out more about the Irish Women Lawyers Association on their website at
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