Currently, the media seems to be interested in stories of both overt and subtle or nuanced forms of discrimination. Can any of us forget the fierce debate generated by the barrister who called out a solicitor on LinkedIn? The judiciary is keen to talk about gender diversity on the bench. The next President of our Supreme Court is awaited with bated breath. Law firms are moving to innovative models of employee-employer relationships. The issue is perhaps ‘having a moment’. But the Bar often feels like it exists in a special bubble in which normal rules don’t quite apply and where those on the outside don’t quite understand.
Bursting the bubble: lean-in
Many of you will be familiar with the initiative set up by Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Its central thesis is about the difficulties uniquely experienced by women in trying to get ahead in their chosen careers. While some of the chapters deal with the struggle of juggling work and family, to use that time-honoured and weathered phrase, much of the book is about the common setbacks or hurdles which all women can face. The book has its staunch supporters, but has attracted some criticism as well. Its detractors argue that Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, speaks from a position of privilege and some of her proposed lean-in solutions are unworkable for most.
The book has, however, inspired the creation of thousands of Lean in Circles which share the common goal of empowering women to achieve in their chosen careers, on the basis that this is good for everyone in society and not just women. Leanin.org provides a shared space, ideas and tools, which can be tweaked to meet the individual needs of any circle or chapter.
The Barristers Lean In Circle (BLIC) is open to female barristers who wish to support each other through a variety of means in achieving their goals. It is a space for open, honest discussion on a confidential basis, and peer support between women some of whom are parents. It does not require an oath of allegiance to Sandberg or devotion to any philosophy. It is open to each Circle to define its own values and goals.
BLIC core values
- Support: to provide a meaningful support network to each other.
- Trust: to engage with each other honestly and confidentially to foster trust in our Circle.
- Share: to share learning and experience and ‘best practice’ with each other.
- Respect: to respect each other’s views and values and to engage in debate in a respectful manner.
- Positivity: to engage with all Circle meetings and projects with a spirit of positivity.
The Circle meets about every 10 to 12 weeks. It has enjoyed support from the Bar Council and Middle Temple in its early days, for which the Circle wishes to express its thanks. It has a dedicated private web space within leanin.org and networking socials take place when possible. Its 40 or so members are successful and ambitious barristers in a wide array of sets.
The level of debate, as one might expect of any group of barristers, has been energising and thought-provoking. As someone who prides herself on seeing the very many sides of a story, I have been amazed to discover sides I had not considered before, which is in no small measure down to the thoughtful and inspiring contributions of Circle members.
If you are interested in becoming a member of this Lean In Circle or lending it support as a mentor, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributor Eleena Misra is Vice-Chair of the Bar Council’s Law Reform Committee and founder of the Barristers Lean In Circle. This article first appeared as a guest blog in BarTalk
#payitforward – A message from women at the Bar
International Women’s Day celebrates and inspires achievement by women, so to mark #IWD2017 this year the Bar Council reminded senior barristers about the importance of a bit of encouragement.
Successful women across many professions, including the Bar, often say that they finally took an ambitious step to progress in their careers because someone they respected told them they were ready and good enough.
Women who have recently taken Silk or secured judicial appointment often state that it was a well-placed phone call or conversation from another that finally meant they made an application.
The Bar Council interviewed senior women and men across the Bar to find out how important encouragement had been in their own careers:
- See the video here
- Tell someone who is talented to take that next step or, if there isn’t an obvious next step, just tell them they are talented #payitforward