Bates Wells and the Law Society release new report and toolkit on women in law

The report shows there is still much further to go to achieve gender equality for women lawyers globally.  


A new report, co-authored by Bates Wells and released to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, sets out to provide practical tools to support women lawyers from around the world in setting up or gearing up professional organisations.

As part of the research for the report, a survey of over 300 respondents across six continents, conducted by the Law Society of England and Wales and Bates Wells, found that women in the law still face significant barriers to progression – including unconscious bias, unequal pay, a lack of support when speaking out about instances of sexual harassment in the workplace and the ‘double burden’ women face when juggling caring responsibilities and work commitments.

One UK respondent, speaking about unconscious bias, said: “I am subject to the billable hour and, as a woman, I am already unintentionally asked to do more non-billable work than the men, which affects my bottom line and inability to make partnership despite being 15+ years qualified and working like a Trojan throughout.”

An international respondent based in Argentina said, “In my law firm, there are no female figures. When I discussed my future professional career with a partner, it appeared as if my gender was not an issue. In practice, however, no woman has been named partner for a long time. Moreover, there are no women currently in a decision-making position”.

The report also found that while some countries have a rich and varied set of initiatives striving to achieve gender equality in the legal sector, in other jurisdictions, there was little by way of resource and a call for women lawyers to come together to support each other.  The needs varied according to cultural and civil and political differences.  In some countries, the clear focus for women lawyers coming together was to campaign around issues such as  gender based violence or poverty, rather than their careers.  In others, the focus is very much career advancement and business opportunities.

The types of organisations and activities identified in the report are key to shifting the dial on gender equality in the law. The report contains advice on how to set up gender equality initiatives and organisations and gives details of existing groups across different jurisdictions.

Melanie Carter, partner at Bates Wells who led the research and co-authored the report said:

“It was clear from our research and analysis that in many jurisdictions amazing work is being done to support women lawyers, mostly volunteers who are passionate about gender equality. 

In some countries, the women we interviewed were working with few resources and in some cases in the face of outright hostility.  Even in this situation, there are inspiring models to follow and great ideas for how to organise.

It is our strong hope that the practical focus of this report will make it a go to resource for women lawyers who want to put together support initiatives whether that’s within a law firm, a separate organisation or as part of the local or national bar association”.

Law Society president David Greene said:

“Bar associations, law firms and law societies around the world have a key role to play in encouraging their members to adopt policies which tackle gender inequality and help create a more diverse, inclusive profession globally.

“We hope our Practical Toolkit for Women in the Law will provide important insights into the barriers women around the world face in their career progression as well as practical tips on how to set up new gender equality initiatives.”

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of March 8, 2021.