International Women’s Day 2023: Hear from our members
March 8, 2023
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, our members look back on what it means to be a woman practicing at the Bar, and some career highlights:
Julie Forsyth – Head of Family (Children) Team:
It’s my own anniversary this year of 40 years at the Bar having been called in 1983. I was 22 and a working class girl from Liverpool. Women comprised of just ten percent of the Bar – I think there were 4000 barristers and of those 400 were women. I believe that there are now about 16 – 17 thousand barristers and the percentage of women is about 40 per cent.
Looking back I can’t quite believe that I made it given that I was the first to go to Uni in my family and knew no lawyers!
I remember the ladies robing room in the grand St Georges Hall. It was literally a room containing 2 or 3 toilets and a mirror. We really were second-class citizens in the world of barristers. Happily, times have changed!
One of the highlights of my career, and there have been many, is having created a successful family department and moving it in 2020 to Exchange Chambers where equality and diversity is respected and valued. Our department is largely comprised of women and so equality in the workplace is very important to us.
Rachel Carroll – Pupil
‘I’m very much at the start of my career but I would say that the highlight is successfully completing pupillage and fully qualifying as a barrister. The last 12 months have challenged me in a lot of ways, but it’s been a really rewarding process and I’m excited to see how my practice grows.’
Susanna Kitzing – Professional Disciplinary Barrister
‘My career highlight is presenting serious, complex and sometimes high profile disciplinary cases on behalf of the General Medical Council. I also enjoy sitting as a Deputy District Judge dealing with civil and private law family cases.’
Jacqueline Deans – Family Law Barrister
‘In answer to your question, I do not think I can really say I have any career highlights – every day is a different day with challenges and triumphs!
As a young barrister, I observed some of the greatest advocacy from women barristers and some of the most sound and just decisions made by women judges. These women were tenacious and clever and they were empathetic. As a very junior barrister, I also learnt a lot from women barristers in my chambers, like my dear colleagues and friends Celestine Greenwood and Julie Forsyth. Cel taught me how to drafting long and complicated court orders and skeleton arguments in family proceedings and Julie’s moving and mesmerising advocacy always captured the complete attention of the judge, jury and of course her opponent barrister, who would often be male! How could I not learn from these two greats!
When I came to the Bar, women were only just permitted to wear trouser suits in court and there was still a certain amount of prejudice toward women barristers from clients and solicitors who often wanted to instruct male barristers. Many chambers did not see the importance of women barristers being supported to take longer maternity leave. I took just short of 11 weeks when I had my first child as the emphasis was always on returning to work quickly and picking up your practice!
We have however come a long way over the past 25 years, there are now more women entering the profession and a visible increase in female representation of the judiciary.
Judith Fordham – Head of Family (Financial Relief)
‘I have found advantage in being a woman barrister. My experiences throughout my career have always been positive.’
Hateema Zia – Commercial Pupil
“As a pupil barrister, I’m at a very early stage of my career, but when I reflect on my journey here, I recall the names of many inspiring women that have encouraged and supported me to date. First, it goes without saying, my Mum whose love and sacrifices I could never compare to, (and who still checks to see whether I’ve left my desk to eat). My academic tutors, whose words of wisdom are still with me today, and my friends and colleagues, who have all given me something to learn and laugh from. For me, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the women around us and to reflect on the role we can play in supporting other women to reach their full potential. Sometimes, the smallest act of kindness has the greatest impact”.
Charlotte Kenny – Criminal Barrister
‘My first demonstration however was at the age of 4 in London for International Women’s Day (1974).’
Sara Sutherland – Personal Injury Barrister
‘As a woman, mother and wife I feel privileged to work on behalf of so many deserving individuals who have faced the utmost adversity and yet face every day with renewed determination. I feel very lucky to be in such a wonderful Chambers where women are encouraged and supported to achieve their very best potential. How far we have come, let’s see what we can do next.’