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Ireland makes legal gender equality history

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Ireland makes legal gender equality history


A new milestone has been reached in the battle to achieve gender equality in sectors that have been dominated by men for centuries.

According to new statistics, Ireland is thought to be the first country in the world where female solicitors now outnumber male solicitors.

The Law Society of Ireland says at the end of 2014 there were 4,623 female solicitors, compared to 4,609 male solicitors. The figures relate to practising solicitors.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time a female majority has existed in any legal profession anywhere in the world,” said Teri Kelly from the Law Society of Ireland.

This is seen as a major achievement in Ireland, given it was just 92 years ago that the country’s first woman solicitor, Mary Dorothea Heron, was admitted to the profession.

While Ireland still has a lot of work to do to achieve gender balance in business and politics, there have been major advances in the legal profession.

The Law Society points out that women now dominate senior state law and justice appointments.

Inspiration and confidence

Teri Kelly said in a statement: “Last year saw the appointment of the first female Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, and the third female Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald.

“These appointments can be added to the first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Susan Denham; the first woman Director of Public Prosecutions, Claire Loftus; the first woman Chief State Solicitor, Eileen Creedon; and the first woman Attorney General, Máire Whelan.”

Geraldine Kelly, a former president of the Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association, told the Law Society’s Gazette: “It makes me very proud, as a female solicitor, to see so many women achieving such success.

“However, I don’t know if having a female majority in the profession will change it in any way. I haven’t noticed any changes yet.”

Norma O’Sullivan, who qualified as a solicitor in 2013, told the Gazette:

“There have been several high-profile women in the legal profession who have set a high bar for young female law graduates, giving us the inspiration and confidence to refuse to be restrained by gender.

“With the benefit of higher education, travel and a wider range of work experiences, today’s young Irish female solicitor is confident, highly ambitious and less concerned about stereotypes or obstacles, with career progression being very much her focus.”

The Law Society of Ireland’s Director General, Ken Murphy, told the Gazette: “Lady Justice is blind, and all are equal before the law. Being a solicitor takes intelligence, determination and hard work. Gender doesn’t come into it, nor should it. However, I do think this current balance is something we can be proud of: that within 90-odd years, women have moved from being excluded from our profession to a point of perfect equality.”

Work to do

In a 2014 World Economic Forum report on the international gender gap, Ireland was ranked eighth out of 142 nations. The country actually slipped two places: in 2013 Ireland was in sixth place and in 2012 it was ranked fifth.

The top ten countries in terms of gender equality were:

1) Iceland
2) Finland
3) Norway
4) Sweden
5) Denmark
6) Nicaragua
7) Rwanda
8) Ireland
9) The Philippines
10) Belgium.

But despite the good ranking, Ireland has a low result in terms of women in politics.

Last year there were only 27 women in the 166-seat House of Representatives, the Dail Eirrann. In the cabinet of 15 government ministers, there are only four women, and among a further 15 Ministers of State only two are women.

But the government has taken measures to try to correct the imbalance.

At the next general election political parties will be required to respect a quota of at least 30 per cent female candidates. The quota will rise to 40 per cent at subsequent elections.

European Commission figures published last year showed that Ireland’s gender pay gap has increased by almost two per cent since 2008, hitting 14.4 per cent in 2012. The pay gap jumps to 24.6 per cent when only considering the top 10 per cent of earners.

In terms of business, the statistics show that only about 10 per cent of women are board members of Ireland’s biggest publicly listed companies, below the EU average of 18.6. Also, in October 2013, there were no women chairpersons or CEOs in any of the top companies listed in the ISEQ20 index.

The representation of women on Irish state boards is better, at about 36 per cent, after the government set a target of 40 per cent two decades ago.

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Further reading

Read the full article on female solicitors in Ireland in the latest edition of the Law Society of Ireland’s Gazette

Watch our video report “The lack of women at the top”, which examines the issue of gender equality in Europe.

Watch our video report “Breaking the glass ceiling”, which examines the issue of gender balance in the management of companies:

Read the article “Women in law” at the website

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