At Glasgow Caledonian University we take equality seriously. Over the past few months, events throughout the world have demonstrated that inequality still exists. It is clear to see that many are unaware of the inequality which exists in our society. Therefore, it is important to recognise and educate people to tackle inequality.
The aim of our Equality in Law project is to do exactly that. Throughout this academic year, we will have blogs, podcasts and interviews focusing on five groups who experience inequality and are often underrepresented in the legal profession. Not only is it important to highlight the struggles of these groups but also bring to light their successes. Below we outline the five key areas of focus for our project – if you want to contribute to any of these (or suggest themes of your own!) do get in touch.
Women in law are often underestimated and under-represented. Women hold fewer managerial positions than men and, in 2019 it was reported only 34% of law firm partners are female. In today’s day and age, it is hard to believe sexist and misogynistic attitudes still exist. It is important to break these barriers down and give women the platforms they need to excel. At GCU, last year we ran a Women in Law project, which aimed to highlight women in the legal profession in Scotland. You can read about it here.
There are also many other great resources. The Equality Now blog highlights legal issues around the world that affect women and girls. They discuss issues ranging from voting rights to the legacy of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a Supreme Court Justice in the United States.
Ethnic minority representation in law
Ethnic minority communities are underrepresented in the legal profession. In terms of ethnic diversity, in 2018 84.6% of respondents to Law Society of Scotland research described their ethnic group as White – Scottish. Only 1.7% of survey respondents were Asian; less than 1% identified as Black, Black Scottish or Black British; and less than 0.001% of respondents described themselves as Polish, despite Polish people accounting for 1.2% of the general population. Organisations such as SEMLA (Scottish Ethnic Minorities Lawyers’ Association) are doing important work with ethnic minority lawyers in Scotland. You can listen to our podcast with one of the co-founders of SEMLA, Naeema Sajid, here.
Socio-economic inequality in the legal profession
Furthermore, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds experience challenges in the workplace. Evidence has shown those from lower socio-economic backgrounds appear on average less likely to progress in their early career, and those who attended state school are less likely to be retained compared to their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Equally, in the Scottish context, the Law Society of Scotland’s Profile of the Profession research suggests that those who have attended private school are over-represented in the legal profession in Scotland.
Work is being done in Scotland to make the legal profession open to everyone, regardless of their background – by organisations like Legable. We also recently spoke to Patricia Taylor, a lawyer who volunteers with the LawScot Foundation. You can listen here.
There is also a lack of visibility in relation to legal professionals with disabilities. In the eyes of the law it is important to treat everyone equally, but disabled people still continue to be less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. If you want to learn more about disabled people’s rights, The Equality and Human Rights Commission website is a good place to start.
There are specific challenges in the legal profession for disabled lawyers. The Law Society of Scotland recently featured a blog from Ian Ballantine, a disabled lawyer, where he shared six ways that life has changed for disabled solicitors since he qualified in 1981. You can read it here.
LGBTQIA+ Rights and the Legal Profession
Finally, it is no secret the LGBT community have faced discrimination and are often not given fair and equal opportunities in the workplace. Although many companies are making an effort to eradicate these issues by introducing extra training opportunities or recognition days, these issues still exist. In Scotland, The Glass Network campaigns on LGBTQIA+ rights in the legal profession. You can listen to our podcast with the co-founder, Drew McCusker, here.
GCU Equality in Law project
In order to progress as a society, we must make an effort to eradicate inequality by raising awareness about different lived experiences. We hope you will tune in for our upcoming posts and cannot wait to explore a variety of issues around equality, law and the legal profession!
By Sidra Iqbal