Gender Equality at the Top: seeking parity across the board for women in the legal profession

Gender equality at the Top: seeking parity across the board for women in the legal profession


An ambitious new global project to study the lack of gender parity at the most senior levels of the legal profession. The first-of-its-kind, nine-year study will identify barriers and track progress of achieving equal representation of women in the highest levels of private practice, in-house positions, the public sector, and the judiciary.

The International Bar Association and LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation are collaborating on an ambitious global research project on gender equality in the legal profession. This study will focus on the number of senior women across private, public, judicial and in-house legal sectors in 15 jurisdictions. The aim of this project is to identify the statistical disparity between men and women at senior levels in the legal profession on a global scale, and identify whether diversity initiatives introduced to address this disparity are having any impact.

Current research shows that females make up the majority of law students and graduates globally, but this is not reflected in the statistics of those working at senior levels, across all legal sectors, where women still constitute a far smaller proportion than their male counterparts. The project seeks to understand and address this gap via a longitudinal study, and provide practical conclusions and guidance to the global legal profession.

Whilst previous studies have focussed primarily on commercial law firms, where data and willingness to participate have been prevalent, the IBA study will be the first to provide global data from law firms, the Bar, government, public prosecution, in-house lawyers, and the judiciary. Data will be collected every three years, over a 9-year period. The study will go beyond simply identifying challenges faced by women practitioners; determining what measures and initiatives are being enacted by the profession and tracking whether they are having an any meaningful impact upon the proportion of women lawyers in positions of seniority.

The Gender Project will commence with a pilot study in late 2021 in three jurisdictions: Spain, South Africa and England & Wales. After the pilot, the study will be extended to the remaining 12 jurisdictions: Australia, Chile, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Singapore, The Netherlands, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States of America.

The project is being led by IBA’s Legal Policy & Research Unit, Diversity & Inclusion Council, with support and input from the Women Lawyers’ Interest Group.

Almudena Arpón de Mendívil

“Despite good intentions, despite the merits and talent of so many women, we still don’t reach the most senior positions across the legal sector mainly due to discriminatory obstacles placed in our paths. This directly clashes with the principles defended by our profession. The legal sector cannot afford this contradiction and should lead by example. With the benefit of raised general awareness around discrimination, it is time for increased action. The IBA is committed to developing solutions that will bring about lasting change to reflect the broader profession and society as a whole”

Almudena Arpón de Mendívil, Vice President, International Bar Association

Pilot jurisdictions