Gender discrimination in the Legal Profession

A gender line… helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

India, the attitude of discrimination against men and women has survived for generations and this affects the lives if both the genders. Even though the Constitution of India has produced equal rights to both men and women, gender disparity remains. Women are understood to be disadvantaged at work.

The matters regarding gender discrimination have affected the field of law and the legal practitioners as well. The issue is largely affecting the female lawyers who have just started their profession as a junior under their superior. In India here are no surveys regarding gender discrimination being led in the field of law. There was a gender appearance survey conducted in Australia, which indicated a marked disparity of gender appearance in Australia’s superior courts. The barristers in the survey reflected the same gender proportion as they endured in the bar population, 81% male and 19% female.

Although, women in the legal profession no longer face gender discrimination which was faced by them twenty or 30 years back, yet there are several unique issues, based on gender discrimination which they have to bear. Women lawyers are constantly judged and compared to their male counterparts. While aggressive women attorneys are judged as harsh and offensive, those who are not so aggressive are termed as weak and unfit for this job. They also face some comments on their physical attributes like height, weight or voice which are supposed to convey experience and authority in the profession as well as in our society.
                                                                     Gender Equality

Challenges faced by female legal practitioners

There are some challenges that are faced by female advocates during the time of their profession, especially during the beginning of their profession. Some the challenges incorporate:

  • It affects their career

A bulk of the women lawyers might have faced some problem or the other in their career. While entering the profession, female lawyers believed that gender discrimination is a thing of the past, but later; they realize that it still exists in our society.

  • Intimidated by male colleagues

Women lawyers have largely been the target of several threatening methods by their male colleagues at some point in their career. The male colleagues often use special ‘bully tactics’ instead of arguing facts to gain a strategic advantage in their case and career.

  • It is not unique to female lawyers

Women attorneys have to face overly hostile and negative response during their profession, but these issues are not different to women. Other minority attorneys face them too in many other countries. Therefore such behaviour imposes special challenges to female lawyers also.

  • Affects both professional and personal life

In this context, it has to be declared that when compared to male lawyers, female lawyers face more challenges in bringing a balance between their career and their family. Many females say that they encounter the worst kind of gender discrimination in their building or the firms with which they are associated to.

Under representation of female lawyers in the Bar Associations also holds as a major issue of concern. This is because many women take leave from their career, such leaves ranging from a few months to many years. The grounds for leave involve a desire for a family. But during such a gap, many variations occur in the profession including the development of new law, technology and also losing contact with professional networks. In such cases, policies rendering flexible work arrangements for women could enable the employer to retain valuable staff who are returning to work on a later date. There is also a demand for bodies that represent the legal profession to collect data on various aspects of gender disparity, including the difference in salary among men and women, and the reasons for the lack of female lawyer retention, particularly after 5 years of professional experience.

Need for a change

Innovation must take place from the grass root level onward. Both the working conditions as well as the justice system must change themselves so that there exists a friendly environment mainly for the female, who can work freely without any interference.

Strategies for legal employers and Bar Associations

  • Assessment of problems and responses; policy evaluation and training;
  • Evaluation of leadership and professional opportunities;
  • Improving the quality of work and implementing work – family initiatives;
  • Monitoring various activities and formulating women networks;
  • Preventing sexual harassment.

Strategies for justice systems

  • A standing committee or administrative board with adequate staff and resources to address gender bias;
  • Effective education in socio-economic as well as psychological research that enables informed decision making on gender-related issues;
  • Proper complaint structure that provides an option for confidentiality and protection against retaliation;
  • Code of conduct that specially addresses gender bias;
  • Initiatives to ensure equal opportunities for women at all the levels of the justice system;
  • Collaboration with other groups within and outside the courts concerned with eliminating gender bias;
  • A collection of data to identify the problems as well as to monitor the effectiveness of responses.

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