Northern Ireland law firms urged to address gender imbalance at partner level

Northern Ireland law firms urged to address gender imbalance at partner level

Pictured (L-R): Northern Ireland's first female Attorney General, Dame Brenda King; the first Lady Chief Justice, Dame Siobhan Keegan; justice minister Naomi Long; and Law Society president Brigid Napier

Law firms in Northern Ireland should take action to address gender imbalance at a partner level, the Law Society has said, with women holding just three out of every 10 partner positions in private practice.

Brigid Napier, the 10th woman to hold the position of Law Society president in its 100-year history, noted that women accounted for over two-thirds of the most recent intake of 122 new solicitors.

“While attracting and recruiting younger women solicitors is not a problem, retaining and encouraging them to achieve their career potential is of wider concern,” she said.

“There’s obviously a glass ceiling that halts those in some private practices, so it’s time to raise standards across the board to ensure female solicitors have a valid and equally accessible career path as their male counterparts.

“It is also important that the legal profession reflects and mirrors society just like it does in other justice professions such as policing.”

A diversity and equality membership survey conducted by the Law Society recently identified issues such as the lack of family-friendly policies, a “long hours culture” and gender pay imbalance as the career red lights for many women.

Mrs Napier said: “We can dwell on the issues, but it’s time to shake things up and drive the change which will support and retain our top female talent.”

The Law Society president has called for more targeted mentoring and training, particularly for those who have had maternity leave or a career break, to help establish a better work/life balance. Law firms have been called on to offer alternatives such as hybrid or flexible working and ensure this is not viewed as detrimental to career development.

Mrs Napier added: “The fact that the top four positions in law are currently filled by women, is not only historic but it proves that change is happening. Each of us has had to overcome personal hurdles and juggle demands, but together we want to challenge perceptions, mentor and support others, and motivate existing and future generations to excel within this great profession.”

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