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Celebrating International Women's Day 2022

View profile for Muntech Kaur
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International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022 is being celebrated on 8 March with this year’s theme being #BreakTheBias. 

IWD is a movement with over 100 years of history originating in 1908 and being first honoured in 1911. It was not until the first World War that it found a firm position on the calendar as being marked on 8 March annually. 

I am an Associate Solicitor at Birkett Long, a multi-service regional Legal 500 firm based in Essex. I joined the firm in late 2016 and was promoted to Associate in 2019. I specialise in Family Law. I feature in the Legal 500 directory as a Recommended Lawyer, Next Generation Lawyer and Rising Star.  

My ambition to embark upon a legal career started when I was of primary school age when I had developed a sense of fighting for justice and upholding the rule of law with the said applying to all equally. I have distinct recollections of watching the news relating to the miscarriages of justice of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six as well as other worldwide events caused by political conflict. 

Education

Coming from a traditional South Asian family, education was important but for females less so particularly when at the completion of compulsory education, life was somewhat mapped out with the social and cultural expectation of marriage, starting a family and holding a low to medium skill level of employment. 

Without realising it back then, these were perhaps my earlier challenges in breaking the bias around what was expected of me from social, cultural and familial prospective to my personal limited expectation of what I thought I could achieve to what I have actually achieved today and in some way what I have done to break my own personal barriers of conscious and unconscious bias. 

School life and academic achievements 

My school life and academic achievements were average having attended state primary and secondary school. My recollection of career’s advice did not leave me inspired by no means and if anything reinforced that invisible glass ceiling that was set for women and the career paths that they ought to embark upon. 

That said, I was fortunate enough to have undertaken work experience whilst at secondary school at a local high street law firm, which helped in visualising what a legal career may look like. Whilst the firm had a female solicitor, my time was spent observing the male solicitors and assisting the female support staff in their tasks. Again, another bias that needed to be broken. 

I found it unfortunate that I was not able to closely work with the female solicitor who is renowned, now has a MBE and is someone I have crossed legal paths with some years after I had qualified. For the male solicitors in this firm, they were as encouraging as they could be despite being middle-aged and holding their own bias. What I have since realised is that these male solicitors were perhaps my first experience of what we now refer to as “male allies”, who are of course equally important in the cause of attaining gender equality.   

College

In college, I undertook a further work experience placement at another local high street firm which had both female and male solicitors. Unlike my first, this second placement gave me an opportunity to work with both female and male solicitors and helped restore, in some way, that idealistic notion of gender equality. 

What I recall from this placement was that one of the female solicitors was due to go on maternity leave. Smash went that next barrier in breaking the bias in that as a woman, not only could you be a mother but also a solicitor. Following her return from maternity leave this solicitor went on to become a partner. Smash! There goes that further barrier in breaking the bias. 

Fast forward to when I started working for a firm which had two male partners, my experience and time demonstrated and highlighted the difference in encouragement and opportunity for male versus female employees with the former gaining trainee solicitor contract roles far swifter. Bang, in goes that nail into the glass ceiling.   

Fast forward further to when I joined Birkett Long it was clear that of the 20 plus partners, a visible number of those were women with the firm having a transparent process of career progression which applied to all equally. What was extremely positive to see was that the firm promoted its youngest female partner, breaking the bias that one needs to be of specific gender and age to move into partnership. 

Achieving gender parity

That said, it is not necessarily the case that all solicitors’ firms across the country have made significant headway in achieving gender parity, particularly in roles of partnership and senior management.  

 

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s statistics, as of July 2021, 153,000 practicing certificates were issued to solicitors of which 52% of these were to women. An increase of 3% compared to statistics of March 2020 where 49% of the solicitors’ profession were women. Yet, despite this increase, the number of women at partnership and/or senior levels remains low and is by no means reflective of a profession where over half its workforce are women. 

Equality, diversity and inclusion

In the last 5 years, I have found myself having both the privilege and honour of working with a number of organisations to advocate on issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. This journey started in 2017 when I became an elected committee member for the Society of Asian Lawyers (SAL). 

This role broadened my horizon and understanding of issues and in turn gave me the opportunity to work with others including with both the governing and regulatory bodies of the solicitors’ profession, The Law Society and Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and other organisations in tackling these issues.

I was later elected as Company Secretary in 2018 and further elected as Treasurer in 2019. My work with SAL is incredibly important and has helped not only continue the conversation on issues of equality but actively helped tackle the same, putting the focus on equality in all that we do. 

My committee member position at SAL in turn led me to the co-opted seat as a committee member for The Law Society’s Ethnic Minorities Lawyers Division (EMLD) in 2019 and subsequently in successfully being appointed into EMLD later that year in a free-standing position. 

Ethnic Minorities Lawyers Division

EMLD forms one strand of The Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion division. My time at EMLD involves working with fellow EMLD committee members (including numerous women junior solicitors to partners and even Judges) and across The Law Society to promote diversity and engage with a spectrum of individuals from law students through to partners on a broad range of issues. 

In 2021, The Law Society ushered in a momentous era in its almost 200 year history with the inauguration of its first black female President followed by its first Asian female Vice-President, who in turn shall be its President in October 2022. A significant milestone for the Law Society’s history and astronomical boost in the campaign of equality and diversity and breaking the bias. 

The respective appointments of President and Vice President, inspired me to further my work on issues of equality and challenging bias, putting myself forward and winning the contested election of The Law Society’s Council Seat of Ethnic Minorities in October 2021. 

I will remain in this Council Seat for 4 years. The Council consists of 100 Council Members and  a Board comprising of the President, Vice-President and Deputy Vice-President together with 300 members all working together to support the solicitors’ profession. 

My Council Member role 

My Council Member role includes partaking in meetings and taking part in forming The Law Society’s strategy and policy, representing solicitors in discussion with government and public bodies, reviewing and debating business plans and budgets, liaising with and representing the views of nation-wide constituents in my special interest group at Council meetings. Whilst only a few months into my Council Seat, I have already been involved in significant decision making which will affect the solicitors profession including how The Law Society will be engaging with its members.   

Like those women before me who have helped break down barriers and challenge bias and inequality and in turn made my journey into the legal profession easier than it was for them, I hope that I shall leave the profession in a better place than when I entered it and that for future generations of women solicitors that I have made a small contribution in breaking the bias. 

Lastly, visibility is important - if you can see it, you can be it. Time to #BreakTheBias.  

If you require any more information on this topic please muntech via muntech.kaur@birkettlong.co.uk or call 01268 824938.

 

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