On October 18th, alongside my brilliant law school peers within the Women in Law Society here at City University I attended a Gender Equality Network high tea at a London corporate law firm. Upon arrival, it was quickly realized the event should have ditched its first two titular words as it was merely networking. While I do speak on this topic with my own bias – I come from the realm of Human Rights law – even the most generic questions on the subject of gender equality were met with blank stares and U-turns within the conversation.
The experiences can be summed up through one of my conversations with a female partner at the firm. In a lull in the usual conversation dealing with recruitment schemes I asked, “Have you ever, either within this firm or throughout your legal career, experienced gender inequality?”
After a long pause her response was as follows, “No, I have fortunately never experienced sexism within the industry. While I have had previous mentors tell me I was too ‘bouncy, peppy and talkative’ and that I needed to tone it down, I don’t think that had anything to do with my gender.”
Now, I don’t want to be the girl who cried Stockholm syndrome at an event I was kindly allowed to attend on behalf of my lovely university, so I ended the discussion there. My mind, however, was swirling with internal questions. Did she never realize how feminized those adjectives are? How could she be so blind to those comments being related to her gender? Is this just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of this woman’s dealings with sexism? Could she ever imagine those same terms being used to critique a male colleague? (I could not, but if someone has the experience to prove me wrong, please do comment).
I wish I could provide additional examples of discussions surrounding the topic of gender equality, at the Gender Equality Networking meetup. However, further probing turned out to be unhelpful to the cause. Every member of the firm I could snag a conversation with would begin our discussion lamenting about how they were not one to discuss gender equality/ diversity with and to ‘talk to so and so over there…’ to the point that I was passed around like a pinball attempting to get a simple answer on anything outside of the law firms two-year recruitment schemes and a few temperate discussions on ‘work life balance.’
Not to be forgotten, the terms diversity, inclusion, and gender equality were used as vague synonyms by the (vast majority white) firm, with very little substance following any of those terms in conversation.
Thankfully, the battle was not all lost. My fellow peers from across the University of London colleges were all incredible, brilliant women and men ready to sit down and ‘cut the bull’ so to speak, actually responding to my questions and constant probing. The kids really are alright. I hope that in the battle for a spot in a firm, my corporate law peers do not lose their vigor and substance- two aspects the corporate world is in desperate need of.
Ashley Gate is a master’s in law student specializing in international Human Rights Law. With a previous background working as a medical aid during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic back in United States, she has a keen eye for the intersectional aspects of health inequity. Ashley has a passion for politics, history, and gardening. Ashley is a member of the 2022-23 Lawbore Journalist Team.