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Leader's Message: International Women's Day

Leader's Message: International Women's Day

Accelerating Progress …

One of the themes of International Women’s Day is the acceleration of progress by investing in women. The aim, as I understand it, is for true equality and equity extending beyond just one day but all year round. My understanding is also that ‘investment’ is more than just throwing money or physical resources at the problem but extends to us all getting ‘on board’ with the progress we have made…and accelerating it.

Whilst there have been significant gains in the advancement and progression of women at the Bar and on our Circuit in particular, the fact that they stand out in the way they do, highlight the disparities and how much more work needs to be done. That is in particular (but not exclusively) in the areas of career progression, retention and remuneration. For some it is of course compounded by inequalities related to racial, cultural and social background. Whilst the stage today highlights women, investment includes supporting the stage upon which women can stand in an inclusive way alongside men all year round.

With that we turn to the second theme for today which is to ‘Inspire Inclusion’. Circuit will continue its efforts to do just that, not just through the excellent work of the Women’s Forum and the ongoing work with and the support of our local judiciary but also in that wider inclusive sense. Our progress perhaps recently highlighted by the fact that we have three new female silks in this years excellent cohort.

In that regard what better way to inspire inclusion than with the potent and powerful words of one of those new leaders, breaking barriers and stereotypes in her journey. I leave you with the words then of Eleanor Temple, KC.

Jason Pitter KC

Leader of the North Eastern Circuit

"It is an honour to celebrate International Women’s Day 2024 just ten days before I am appointed as King’s Counsel. There will be three North Eastern Circuit female barristers in Westminster Hall this year: Denise Breen-Lawton, Nikki Saxton and myself. I will be the third female practising in Business and Property work to be appointed outside of London. The numbers suggest women are thriving at the Bar. Nearly 60 percent of pupil barristers are female, 40 percent of all barristers are female, 42 percent of judges are female and women account for 51 percent of recommendations in judicial selection exercises.

In these numbers our profession should take pride. It is barely a century since Ivy Williams became the first woman to be called to the Bar and Helena Normanton became the first woman actually to practice. I believe our profession bears favourable comparison with others, perhaps because merit has always been at the heart of what barristers do.

But it is not just a numbers game and there is still a journey to travel. Too often barristers face toxic behaviour from judges, colleagues and clerks. And too many times barristers are expected to compromise in other areas of their life (particularly their family life) for the sake of their career.

I say 'barristers' rather than 'women' because this is not just about women, although these things affect women disproportionately. It is about all of us, women and men. International Women’s Day is not about striking a blow for women against men. The success of women is not enjoyed at the expense of men and men certainly do not have a monopoly on bad behaviour.

Rather, today is a celebration of merit untrammelled by sex. We mark our quest to improve professional life across the board. To combine a successful career with a happy and fulfilling life is hardly an exclusively female goal. I am proud to become a KC not because I am a woman and a mother and a daughter - though I am all those things - but because I am a human being. The men standing next to me on 18 March will be every bit as entitled to a smile of satisfaction as me.

Inclusivity is my watchword here, consistent with the theme for this year’s IWD campaign 'Inspire Inclusion'. When I set up the Leeds BPC Forum in early 2020 - with Sue Harris, a solicitor at Walker Morris, and my (male) colleagues and supporters, His Honour Judge Davis-White KC and Jonathan Rodger - our goal was to open this profession to the community that it serves. I wanted to make an often closed and mysterious world open and transparent; I wanted nobody to feel they did not belong.

How can people from different backgrounds aspire to be a barrister if they cannot see others like themselves practising at the Bar? We all need enablers: on my journey I have had many willing to help and support me, but one deserves special mention, His Honour Norman Jones KC. It probably was no coincidence that his untimely passing last year was the catalyst for me to finally apply for silk; Norman gave me self-belief.

The overarching theme for IWD 2024 is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress”, highlighting the critical role of empowering women, not just encouraging them to enter the profession but encouraging and supporting them to remain in the profession and to progress at the same rate as everybody else.

It is in the same spirit that I come to International Women’s Day. I hope that by celebrating International Women’s Day we might foster a sense of belonging and opportunity for all. More than inspiring inclusion we must action, instigate, and initiate inclusion.

We have a duty to look out for and to support each other regardless of our sex. Our male colleagues have an important responsibility but also an opportunity. I invite them to be fearless in calling out bad behaviour when they encounter it and always to consider their own actions and interactions from a female point of view. And to my female colleagues I say we must not exclude and alienate our male friends and supporters - our goals are their goals and theirs are ours.

But this is no surprise: our differences are as nothing to what we have in common. And what I believe we have in common is a commitment to a better professional life for all."

Eleanor Temple (not KC quite yet)
Kings Chambers

8 March 2024