Celebrating 100 years since the Sex Disqualification Act

Women in the Law UK has marked this year’s centenary of the lifting of the bar on female participation in the legal profession by introducing a Charter for firms that demonstrate real commitment to diversity and wellbeing. The Charter was officially launched at the Women in the Law UK Annual Dinner on 14 March, which was attended by over 300 senior legal sector influencers from around the country.

Women in the Law UK was founded by barrister Sally Penni to provide support to women at all stages of their legal careers and to address the gap in female representation in leadership roles within the profession. It runs a wide-ranging programme of events in the North West and in the past six months has begun holding regular events in London, Leeds, Liverpool and Edinburgh.

The new Charter recognises barristers’ chambers, law firms and legal businesses that are actively trying to bridge the gender gap in the legal profession and actively promoting employee wellbeing. Other criteria for awarding the Charter include actively promoting the retention of female talent in the legal profession, actively promoting the progression of women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and demonstrably supporting the activities of Women in the Law UK.

Sally Penni said:

We have made huge strides as a profession since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed in 1919, enabling women to practise the law for the first time, and the mood at [the Annual] Dinner was, quite rightly, celebratory. Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go and the time is now right to launch a formal standard for gender diversity in legal practice… The Charter both recognises the achievements made by forward-looking firms and provides a benchmark to which others can aspire. I would encourage all legal businesses that are serious about gender diversity to apply…

The Annual Dinner was held at the historic Midland Hotel in Manchester, which overlooks the city’s new statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square. Guest speakers included Mrs Pankhurst’s great-granddaughter; the President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale; the retired High Court Judge of the Queen’s Bench Division, Mrs Justice Cox; and the first Asian woman to service as a High Court Judge in the United Kingdom, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb.

The Annual Dinner raised money for a number of charities including Prevent Breast Cancer and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. The event welcomed women on maternity leave and students from non-traditional backgrounds.

Women in the Law UK’s events are held under the Chatham House Rule, enabling speakers and audience members to speak freely and learn from each other’s experiences in a confidential environment. Previous events have covered subjects including career progression, why lawyers need to sit on boards, how to network, and what lawyers can learn from inspiring businesswomen.

To book places at future events, readers should visit Women in the Law or Eventbrite. The Women in the Law UK conference takes place on 15 November 2019 in Manchester.

Individuals and businesses that are interested in joining Women in the Law UK or applying for the Charter should email womeninthelawuk@gmail.com 


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