Women in law in Europe – What’s the situation in my country?
many opinions and arguments in the discussion about women’s advancement, often
based purely on personal experience. They can be very individual and subjective,
and may distort the view of the bigger picture. Maybe a closer look at the
facts can help to clear up some beliefs that do not reflect reality. Luckily,
there is a recent report for the EU parlament’s judicial committee that
provides many insightful numbers, facts and analyses.
of the European court rooms are – perhaps surprisingly so – overall rather
evenly distributed among men and women. There is even a slight majority of
female judges. Interestingly, Common Law countries tend to have more men on the
judge’s benches, while more women hold a gavel in Civil Law member states. In
some countries, the gender gap even favors women 70/30. Still, the fact that
cases in the EU are overall more likely to be decided on by a female judge
should not be overinterpreted as sign of women’s advancement. In many
countries, judges earn significantly less than other legal professionals such
as attorneys or prosecutors. Also, women may be more common at courts of lower
instance, but men still fill the most seats on intermediate and supreme courts.
The general tendency is that the higher the court, the fewer women are to be
found. In the Supreme courts of the EU states, only one third of all judges are
women. On the bright side, the numbers of female higher instance judges has
significantly increased in recent years.
also comes as a surprise that almost 60% of all public prosecutors in the EU
are women, and their numbers are likely to go up even further. While this tendency
is more consistent than the gender distribution of judges, there are some
significant variations between the member states. While about 80% of prosecutors
in Cyprus are women, in Italy and Germany, this profession is still is firmly
in male hands. The trend that the higher in the court structure you go, the fewer
women there are, is not only true of judges, but also of prosecutors. At
supreme court level, 60% of prosecutors are male, with Belgium having only men
who serve in this position, and Italy an also staggering 92%.
female lawyers are already rather well-represented in public offices, the
situation in the private sector looks much more dire. Only 43% of all bar
members in the EU are women, with extreme variations from country to country.
The gender gap in Eastern, Western and Southern Europe is comparatively narrow,
with a roughly 50/50 distribution in Poland, France, Italy and the UK. Northern
and Central Europe, on the other hand, lag behind in promoting women attorneys.
In the Nordic countries, about one third of the bar is female. The situation is
similar in Germany, the EU’s most populous country. Austria finishes last with
an ca 80% male bar, down from a shameful more than 90% (!) in 2005. In the
light of this it is very fitting that the Women in Law Conference is held in
the capital of the one EU country where awareness and action is most urgently
needed. Similar to their female judges and prosecutors, women attorneys are
well-represented in the lower ranks, but they are less likely to be promoted
than their male colleagues, especially in larger law firms. In fact, the more
partners there are, the fewer of them are women. While in smaller firms with up
to 4 partners, about 40% of them are female, that number decreases to roughly
20% as the size of the firm reaches more than 10 partners.
A call for action
of women working in law might be gradually increasing across the board, but it
will take a long time to achieve equality in the numbers if progress continues
at such an idle pace. Because of this it is paramount to spread awareness of
the dire state of gender equality in legal professions, which is what the Women
in Law Conference is set out to achieve. Women across the globe should get
together and investigate the causes of their underrepresentation in law,
especially in the higher ranks. They should find strong and effective ways to
accelerate progress, so that an equality in the numbers is not achieved in the
day of their granddaughters, but in their own lifetime.
For the full report click here (PDF).