The words of a female High Court Judge are immovable in my mind till this day.
Upon entering Middle Temple Hall for tea with her colleagues, an elderly male visitor mistook her for a waitress. It is this very notion of what a conventional barrister should look like, which has proved to be problematic.
Walking into a barristers chambers for the first time for a ‘Women in Commercial Bar’ event, for which the application process was ridiculously competitive, I wanted to feel inspired and even more so, feel determinedto reach the heights of the profession.
Coming from a tiny state school in East London with a demographic that could not look more diametrically opposed to the configuration of the judiciary, I still hoped that the profession at least appeared inclusive.
Out of 30 odd female undergraduates and postgraduates, I was the only woman from my academic institution, and the only person of South Asian descent.
As I walked up three flights of stairs for an advocacy workshop at Middle Temple, we were made aware of the paintings on the walls of previous barristers who had been made silk. I took a closer look, and realised that out of a total of 14 paintings, none were female.
Alarm bells started ringing.
It was only then, that I truly documented that the endemic problems of gender inequality at the commercial bar continue.
During a Q&A with a female QC, clerk and junior tenant, I appreciated the struggle women face in proving their worth at the bar.
“You have to show your counterparts that you are tough enough and on top of it”
“The subconscious bias is unfortunately part of the furniture”
“You have a strong opinion and suddenly you’re the bossy one no one wants to work with”
Nevertheless, their subsequent words of wisdom spoke volumes…
A question was posed to the QC, as to why it mattered that there were more females in the judiciary. The more I began to contemplate the question, its origins became more unsettling.
When the franchise extended to men who owned property, it was not questioned why it mattered that they were represented. It was ultimately a given, that they ought to influence policy change as it affected their livelihood. By analogy, it should be a given that women ought to shape the laws that undoubtedly affect them too.
Counter productively, it was the underrepresentation of a working class, ethnic female at the commercial bar and commercial firms, which solidified my desire to pursue a career as a commercial lawyer.
Ultimately, I am determined to reach the bar or firm to satisfy the intellectual curiosity within me, but also, to avoid the 20 year old ethnic female who walks into a barrister chambers in 6 years feeling like she does not belong, after realising that not a single person looks like her.
What drives me, is imposter syndrome.