Female Lawyers: Gender Representation and Discrimination

Are you a female lawyer? Women make up 50% of the population of the world. Gender discrimination is still a major concern in the legal community in the majority of jurisdictions.  It seems strange that women could not work in the legal industry around 100 years ago. In the past, most colleges did not produce many female lawyers.  In the present time, women can practice law and there are significant advances. Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement for female lawyers. With regard to gender representation, the number of female lawyers in international courts is lower than men. Only 20% of judges in international courts and tribunals are women.[i]

What Are the Main Challenges of Female Lawyers Today?

A female lawyer indeed wants others to recognize her by her merit, rather than her gender or based on gender stereotypes. The reality is that men still take up far more positions. Women can get into the legal profession, but the female lawyers’ barriers are to stay and rise to the top. The ABA’s 2019 study reveals that women now represent just over 22 percent of all partners and 19 percent of equity partners.

Whether you are a male or a female lawyer, you probably know how exhausting it can be to worry about challenges like inequality in pay. To put it simply, the gender pay gap still lingers as a barrier for female lawyers. Additionally, according to an article, in Germany, the proportion of female lawyers in management positions and at partner level is still below 10%, potentially even falling. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the juggling maternity and family duties of female lawyers. Until issues of flexibility and childcare are addressed, female lawyers can too easily be held back from the top.


Should We Accept the Overrepresentation of Men in International Courts?

Fair representation of the sexes in courts and arbitral tribunals is essential. The underrepresentation of women in international courts and tribunals is an issue. We see many female lawyers and law graduates. Yet, women remain a minority in the courtrooms. What is remarkable here is that one of the biggest problems with regard to discrimination in the legal industry is the lack of gender balance on the bench.

In international legal documents, the opportunity of women and female lawyers to represent their governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations is emphasized.[ii]  Many believe that the presence of female lawyers can enhance adjudication.

Also, gender equality and women’s representation in public institutions like the judiciary are expressly mentioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hopefully, ICC’s statute reflects these issues since women and children victims usually fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Accordingly, a balance of genders on the bench is taken into consideration. Achieving sex-representative international court benches will bring states into compliance with their international legal obligations, enhance the legitimacy of international courts, and advance the project of equality of the sexes in international institutions.[iii]

What Should Be Done for Female Lawyers?

A female lawyer

Systemic changes and multi-pronged approaches are essential since there is a lot of issues female lawyers face in their daily professional lives. Change does not happen overnight.  Indeed, governments must take steps to remedy the paucity of women. What is more, bar associations can play an instrumental role in encouraging their members to adopt and implement policies that address unconscious and conscious bias, make a concrete commitment to gender equality, and promote flexible working.  

In sum, all of the people active in the legal sector should identify different strategies to ensure a balance in female lawyers’ work-life commitments. If law firms want to fit in the future, they cannot ignore gender diversity and equal pay. There is still a long way to go!


[i] Andrea Samardzija, The future is female, Leidenlawblog

[ii] Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Article 8

[iii] Nienke Grossman, Achieving Sex-Representative International Court Benches, 110 Am. J. Int’l L. 82 (2016), p.95

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