It is often difficult for women to thrive at workplaces because of the rules framed by generations of men who have dominated the space for so long. It is no different in the legal profession. To understand what challenges women in law face and how those who rise to the leadership position can help the next generation of women, the Ananta Centre held a virtual session on “The Woman Speaks Series - Women Leadership in Law: Becoming allies for the next generation” with Mishi Choudhary, Legal Director - SFLC, New York; Vinati Kastia Kilambi, Senior Partner, AZB & Partners; and Jayna Kothari, Senior Advocate & Executive Director, Centre for Law and Policy Research, moderated by Amitav Virmani, Founder CEO of The Education Alliance.
The initial challenge women face in general is from their families and relatives. Either there are pressures to focus on a future as a housewife and mother or they are not given a career choice. Most of the women who ultimately make it to the legal profession are either from those with a family background or those who have had considerable support from their families, especially parents.
Women face significant challenges early in their careers, especially those who come from a family with no background in the legal profession. The lack of women in leadership positions and mentors are two of the key reasons why young women face some issues as they start out. The rules have been written by men who have dominated the workspace for generations and they are not very welcoming to young women. Things like a boys’ club, where a lot of conversation happens over smoke and drinks, tend to exclude women. However, this is not to say that men are not helpful to women but a lot has to be done. Men need to be patient as women find their way, make some mistakes and learn from them.
A mentor is really crucial to career growth of not just women but all professionals. However, women, especially those who do not have family background in law, often face lack of mentorship. Because many government appointments in the legal profession are not done through a transparent application process, people who could recommend your name and vouch for you play a key role in your growth during early years of the career. For a lot of people, godfathers are either related to them or have kinship, community or caste ties. While many men who do not have such ties can approach their senior male colleagues who could help them out, it is often difficult for the women to do the same. The lack of women in senior positions in the profession limits the options for young women in seeking help from senior people from the profession.
While there are a considerable number of women working in the profession, there is still a gender disparity at the top level. There have to be more number of women at the leadership level and that can be done unitedly by men and women. Men have to become the allies in bridging this gap and one way to do it is better communication. There has to be more and better communication between men and women at the workplace. Women are also made to feel less for showing emotion. However, men should actually learn from women and understand that there is no weakness in being a little vulnerable.
The conversation going forward should focus on how we can break some of these barriers of stereotypes that are there and open out opportunities for access to some guidance, some mentoring support. Senior people of the profession, including judges and senior advocates, should come forward and speak to young lawyers more often and tell them how they got to where they are. Senior people from the profession should try to understand how we open some of these dialogues going forward.
Watch the entire session on Youtube: