Women and the professions

What is the problem?

It is clear that women do not have equal power and influence in sectors across public life. For example, although 66% of all students studying law in 2010/11were women and the number of women entering the legal profession has been steadily increasing,  women feature relatively little at the higher levels of the judicial system; at almost all judicial levels women constitute less than 20% of office-holders.

One of the issues which can have a direct effect in reducing the numbers of women in the pipeline is the rate at which women leave careers before reaching senior levels. According to the Association of Women Solicitors, the drop-out rate for women is twice that of men, and according to the Bar Council the dropout rate for women barristers after 10 to 12 years of service is ‘high’. This means that in both professions women are significantly less likely to reach the levels from which they are likely to be considered for promotion to the most senior roles.

The portrayal of powerful women matters too. The tone and much of the culture of public life is set by newspapers and the media, where again women are largely invisible. For example, women make up only 5 % of editors of national daily papers  and research by Women in Journalism found that ‘in a typical month, 78 % of newspaper articles are written by men, 72 % of Question Time contributors are men and 84 % of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s Today programme are men.  The lack of women’s influence and power within the world of media has an effect on the visibility of women as role models and the subject, nature and tenor of public debate.

What do we want to see happen?

We want organisations to take action to increase women’s representation within their respective sectors and to improve the portrayal of women in positions of power and influence.

We believe that this means that work places need to get up to date. Modern workplaces need to support and enable women to rise to the top by embedding flexible working practices and ensuring a working culture that values women equally at the top tables of power. We also need organisations to be proactive in increasing women’s representation. We would urge all professions – public, private and third sector – to take steps to increase women’s representation within their organisations.

Moreover, the portrayal of women in the media matters. We want the media to tell us more about women’s views than their shoes. We want women to be given an equal platform and would urge all organisations to ensure that, at meetings and events, both women and men appear on platforms as speakers, and editors and broadcasters should also take responsibility for commissioning contributions from both women and men as commentators and experts.

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