Leading by example: Cloisters comes out on top of gender gap review

The Lawyer magazine has conducted an analysis into the gender gap at the employment bar using data from its case tracker tool, finding that within the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal Cloisters is leading by example both in terms of the number of cases and the gender split.

In an article published today, The Lawyer magazine highlights the very low number of women applying for QC status, and the fact that in 2018 only 5 out of the 38 employment law applications for silk were from women. In the article this is generally attributed to a feeling of disillusionment that exists across the bar noting that, “For several female barristers interviewed for this article, the problem is structural – that women barristers are not getting the same level of cases as their male counterparts… many don’t feel they are getting the big cases that their skills and experiences deserve when compared with the men”.

Accordingly, The Lawyer asks the questions: What sort of work are female barristers getting – and not getting? Who is instructing them? Which chambers has the best record in female representation at the employment Bar, and which has the poorest?

The Lawyer has found that between 2015 and 2019, Cloisters had a 60/40 male/female gender split in EAT cases, and that at our junior end there is near-parity, with 18 male juniors and 15 female juniors active in this time period. 

Similarly in the Court of Appeal Cloisters were identified as one of two chambers with the clearest gender parity on employment cases with a 50/50 split in terms of gender, with nine female barristers and nine male of the 18 barristers active on employment cases.

Concluding that Cloisters has the best record for female representation and equality at the Employment Bar. This is no small achievement bearing in mind that Cloisters topped the table for the most cases in the EAT and Court of Appeal.

The authors noted:

“What is striking about Cloisters is its relatively high female demographic compared to many other chambers. It has 15 silks in total, of whom four are female: Rachel Crasnow QC (2015), Schona Jolly QC (2017), Patricia Hitchcock QC (2011) and Daphne Romney QC (2009), plus 38 juniors of whom 19 are female… What appears to have made a difference at Cloisters is its recruitment policy – it has a cluster of female juniors of between 7 and 11 years call… and its directional approach. Its central management monitors trends in allocation of work by protected characteristics, including sex, and states that it takes remedial action if that monitoring shows any areas of concern.”

We are proud to have been acknowledged by The Lawyer in this way. We are very conscious of the barriers facing specific groups at the Bar, in particular women, those from BAME backgrounds and disabled barristers. Despite a better understanding of issues of equality and diversity amongst employment lawyers, we have long-recognised that the employment law bar is no less affected than other areas of legal practice in relation to career progression.

Head of Chambers and specialist Employment silk Jacques Algazy QC said, “Whilst there is never room for complacency, these statistics are not achieved by accident. Cloisters has a long history of nurturing and supporting our female colleagues. We are proud of our near perfect return rate for barristers coming back from maternity leave with the clerks taking meticulous care to ensure career development and progression on return.

The breadth and wealth of talent in Cloisters across the gender divide, as reflected in this article, is eloquent testimony to our pioneering and inclusive culture carefully fostered over the years. Gratitude is owed in no small measure to the enlightened leadership of our former heads of chambers and the tireless efforts of our dedicated staff.”

Robin Allen QC, former Head of Chambers and current Chair of the Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity Committee added:  “Cloisters has been committed to the concept of a “Bar of All and For All”. At a time when too many women find it difficult to maintain practice in a profession that demands so much flexibility, I am immensely proud of what my colleagues in chambers have shown is possible.”

Our clerks are committed and make strenuous efforts to ensure that all members of chambers have fair access to work opportunities. We are sure to monitor trends in allocation of work by protected characteristics and address any areas of concern. Senior Clerk Glenn Hudson has said, “The data published in The Lawyer article tells the tale of the years of commitment to create an equal and diverse work environment. At Cloisters, we encourage work/life balance and several members of chambers have flexible working arrangements. We are committed to gender equality and will continue to work hard to truly achieve this. I am especially proud of everyone in Cloisters and the team effort that has enabled us to achieve this recognition today.”

Beyond Cloisters’ own initiatives, several of our barristers have leadership roles within professional bodies such as the Bar Council, the Employment Law Bar Association (ELBA), the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) and the Industrial Law Society (ILS) and have been working hard to develop and implement initiatives with the objective of improving equality and diversity at the Bar. 

Specialist employment law and discrimination barrister Claire McCann said, “The Lawyer’s piece may make for startling reading for some but, sadly, it didn’t surprise me at all as a female employment barrister who has been one of those involved in looking at the obstacles facing female barristers at the employment bar. I am on ELA’s Management Committee and I know it has been working hard to support diversity initiatives, including a pilot monitoring scheme to analyse the gender breakdown of instructions of counsel by the Firms who are represented on the Management Committee. The full data set has yet to be analysed but early results suggest that there may well be a gender problem in the way in which barristers are instructed but it is too soon to reach any definitive conclusions; and the data set is small. What is obvious however, is that there are systemic barriers to women’s progression at the employment law bar.  The Lawyer’s article makes clear that, in appellate cases, there is a skew towards instructing male silks and juniors.  It can hardly surprise anyone, then, that female barristers find it harder to compile the supporting information for their applications for silk (or, indeed, judicial appointments). 

I have been at Cloisters since 2000, having completed my pupillage in October 2001 and had two babies (and maternity leaves) in 2006 and 2009.  The working environment at Cloisters has been supportive from the beginning of my career and I’m sure that the determination of colleagues and staff to enable all of our barristers to succeed, with particular acknowledgment that women can find life at the bar difficult when they have children, has been the single most important factor enabling me to remain at the Bar as a working mother.  Cloisters is leading by example and it is absolutely right that this is acknowledged by The Lawyer.  I’m so proud to be a member of Cloisters, but we still have a lot more work to do.”

Head of Cloisters Employment group, and specialist discrimination barrister, Dee Masters added, “Like Claire, I am very much Cloisters “born and bred” having completed my pupillage here.  I have always felt supported by my colleagues especially silks in chambers who have always been generous with their time and support.  Whilst The Lawyer article identified a problem with male silks mostly leading male juniors, I am pleased to say that I have always been championed by male silks at Cloisters especially Robin Allen QC and Paul Epstein QC who have frequently brought me into complex and challenging cases.”

Our award-winning employment team are enormously proud and the stats published in The Lawyer today show that we have a good reason to be. Cloisters appear in almost all major employment litigation in the UK and we truly could not do this without an equal and diverse workforce of skilled experts. We know that there is still so much work to be done; we will not be complacent and look forward to continue to set the standard.

See here to read the full article from The Lawyer (under paywall)