Women in the Law UK launches Charter for firms committed to gender diversity

Sally Penni

Women in the Law UK has introduced a Charter for firms that demonstrate real commitment to diversity and wellbeing.

It marks this year’s centenary of the lifting of the bar on female participation in the legal profession.

The Charter was officially launched at last week’s Women in the Law UK Annual Dinner in Manchester, which was attended by around 300 senior legal sector influencers from around the country.

The Charter recognises barristers’ chambers, law firms and legal businesses that are actively trying to bridge the gender gap in the legal profession and promoting employee wellbeing.

Other criteria for awarding the Charter include actively promoting the retention of female talent in the legal profession, actively promoting the progression of women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and demonstrably supporting the activities of Women in the Law UK.

Sally Penni, award-winning barrister and founder of Women in the Law UK, said: “We have made huge strides as a profession since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed in 1919, enabling women to practise the law for the first time, and the mood at last week’s dinner was, quite rightly, celebratory.

“Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go and the time is now right to launch a formal standard for gender diversity in legal practice.

“The Charter both recognises the achievements made by forward-looking firms and provides a benchmark to which others can aspire.

“I would encourage all legal businesses that are serious about gender diversity to apply, and I look forward to a time when, whether a firm has achieved the Women in the Law UK Charter is a key consideration for female lawyers considering a career move.”

The annual dinner was held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, which overlooks the city’s new statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square.

Guest speakers included Mrs Pankhurst’s great-granddaughter, the activist and writer Helen Pankhurst.

The other speakers who addressed the event were the president of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale, the retired High Court Judge of the Queen’s Bench Division, Mrs Justice Cox, and the first Asian woman to serve as a High Court Judge in the United Kingdom, Mrs Justice Cheema Grubb.

The dinner also saw the announcement of the winner of the inaugural Women In the Law UK Essay Competition for aspiring lawyers.

The subject for this year’s competition was, “What remaining barriers exist for women, and BAME women, in the legal profession and what steps can be taken to see more women leaders in senior roles in the law, in firms and in courts?”

The winner, who received a cash prize and the opportunity to be mentored by a senior member of Women in the Law UK, was 17-year-old Yoelle Lalaye, who entered the competition on the recommendation of her mentor from the One Million Mentors scheme.

Her essay will be published online at www.womeninthelawuk.com.

Miss Penni, who practises out of Kenworthy’s Chambers in Manchester and is also vice chair of the Association of Women Barristers, said, “The quality and quantity of entries was fantastic, particularly given that this is the first time we have held this competition. The response we received was really encouraging for the future of our profession.”

Women in the Law UK was founded in Manchester by Sally Penni to provide support to women at all stages of their legal careers and to address the gap in female representation in leadership roles within the profession.

It runs a wide-ranging programme of events in the North West and in the past six months has begun holding regular events in London, Leeds, Liverpool and Edinburgh.