Proposals from the Bar Standards Board (BSB) designed to give a boost to female barristers have now received the backing of the Bar Council. It is believed the proposals could help encourage women to maintain their careers at the bar, and increase their chances of rising to more senior positions.
The proposals come not long after the latest annual diversity report revealed that women, along with minority groups, are still underrepresented at the bar. The lack of female barristers is particularly pronounced at upper levels, with women making up a disproportionately small percentage of those in senionr roles such as Queen’s Counsel.
The BSB’s proposals would represent an extension of shared parental leave rights that were introduced nearly two years ago for employed barristers, making the same rights available to self-employed barristers as well. The current system, which has been in place since April 2015, allows leave to care for a new child to be shared by both parents through the first year after birth and adoption. This allows barristers to share the responsibilities and the time off work more equally, rather than the careers of women being affected more profoundly than those of men during this period as is traditionally the case. At present, however, chambers are under no obligation to make these shared leave rights available to the self-employed – something that the BSB’s proposals would change.
The BSB published its consultation on the subject in November 2016, and a consultation response from the Bar Council was published yesterday. In its response, the council indicates its support for the proposals, saying that they might present challenges for chambers in the short term but would ultimately help the bar to take a place at the “forefront of advocating full equality for all its members.”
The Council also expressed the view that access to shared parental leave for self-employed as well as employed barristers might be an aid to recruiting female talent to the bar. In its consultation response, it said that the measures “would probably act as a draw to recruitment of the best and most talented women, who would otherwise not consider a career in what is still a male-dominated profession, especially at the more senior levels.”
In the consultation, it was proposed that self-employed barristers should have access to shared leave if their partners are employed, or if their partners are also self-employed barristers at either the same or different chambers. However, the Council expressed concerns about fully extending shared parental leave to every self-employed barrister, believing this would be financially costly for chambers.