Half a century later a crack in the glass ceiling’s not helped gender equality at the Bar
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We celebrated a milestone this week: it's been 50 years since Dame Roma Mitchell was appointed Australia's first female silk.
But despite Mitchell's trailblazing effort, less than one in ten practising silks in Australia are female today.
According to research by Australian Women Lawyers this week, females account for just 7.92% of all silks practising at the independent bar, that's just 64 of the total 808 senior counsel. This is despite the fact that for decades, the majority of law school graduates have been women.
As Australian Women Lawyers president Kate Ashmor put it to me this morning, that crack in the glass ceiling Mitchell managed half a century ago was merely just a small chip.
And way back in 1982, Dame Roma herself knew just how much more work there was to do: "Better opportunities for women do not mean they should relax. Results of past discrimination are going to take a long time to reverse."
The implications of having such low representation of women at the Bar extend much further than the legal sector. They affect our entire justice system -- especially when you consider that many appointments to the bench are made from senior counsel ranks.
The Bar also provides a clear case in point of that shows that one woman making a breakthrough won't turn on the tap for more equal representation in the future – even after decades of what many consider progress.
Moving past discrimination of the past could take longer than any of us ever anticipated. At the Bar, the problem is not only a lack of female representation, but also the fact women barristers are frequently overlooked for briefs, as evidenced by research from the Law Council of Austraila. "I have sat back and watched this over the last 22 years and there is very serious discrimination in terms of briefing a women," Caroline Kirton SC told Lawyers Weekly.
So what more can be done? The research is a good start, as are initiatives such as AWL's 'Find a Female Barrister' webpage, which lists female barristers from each state and territory practising at the independent bar.
But clearly, there's much more work to do.