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SHUTTERSTOCK / ALEXANDRA GIESE
to such an extent during a scholarship interview that
she is considering leaving the profession,” she recalls.
She adds that bullying and harassment play a
part in the retention of women and black, Asian, and
minority ethnic (BAME) people at the Bar.
“Women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented
in relation to the proportion they are in
society and will remain so for many years to come.
For instance, there are fewer than 35 BAME women in
silk—out of around 1,700 in silk at the present time,”
This type of situation is certainly not limited to
the UK—in a wider study, encompassing nearly 7,000
individuals across the spectrum of legal workplaces
from 135 countries, the International Bar Association
reported bleak findings.
Approximately one in two female respondents
and one in three male respondents had been bullied
in connection with their employment, while one
in three female respondents had been sexually
harassed in a workplace context, as had one in 14
One-third of those who had been sexually harassed
and 65% of those who had been bullied had left, or
were considering leaving, their workplaces.
She’s echoed by a lawyer from South Africa,
who knows of people who believe they’ve been
discriminated against but didn’t report because they
felt they wouldn’t be taken seriously, were likely to be
victimised, or that reporting would be detrimental to
“The way forward for them was to leave the
profession,” she adds.
And, while the #MeToo movement against sexual
harassment and assault has made impressive strides to
raise awareness and empower women, it’s not enough.
The UK’s legal profession is plagued by a “culture
of fear” around reporting sexual harassment and
bullying, according to the Association of Women
Barristers in a 2019 report.
Co-authored by Lynne Townley, lecturer at the
City Law School, University of London and circuit
judge Katy Kaul, “Moving towards a zero-tolerance
attitude to harassment and bullying at the Bar”
followed a roundtable during which participants said
they’d observed several practices which “created an
atmosphere that permitted harassment and bullying
Townley knows of many cases of discrimination.
“One student was quizzed about her ethnic background