The legal profession has a problem.
In 2018, the International Bar Association (IBA) and market research company Acritas conducted the largest-ever global survey on bullying and sexual harassment in the profession.
They found that:
- Approximately one in two female respondents and one in three male respondents had been bullied at work.
- One in three female respondents had been sexually harassed in the workplace, as had one in fourteen men.
Nearly 7,000 individuals from 135 countries responded to the survey, from across the spectrum of legal workplaces: law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary. The results provide empirical confirmation that bullying and sexual harassment are rife in the legal profession.
I was advised by my mentors not to become the ‘poster child for sexual assault in the workplace as this would seriously handicap my career – Female employee, Law Firm, Hong Kong
Other key findings include:
– Younger legal professionals are disproportionately impacted by bullying.
– Sexist, sexual and sexually suggestive comments were the most commonly experienced forms of sexual harassment, while inappropriate physical contact and sexual propositions were also common; 22% of sexually harassed respondents had been fondled, kissed or groped, while 3% had been sexually assaulted.
– Government legal workplaces have the highest average gender-weighted prevalence of bullying at 69% of respondents.
Line managers/supervisors are the most frequent perpetrators of bullying.
– Ridicule or demeaning language was the most common form of bullying, impacting more than half of bullied respondents.
– Two forms of supervision-related bullying – ‘overbearing supervision, undermining of work output or constant unproductive criticism’ and ‘being deliberately given too much or too little work, or work inadequate to the position’ – were also commonplace.
– Line managers/supervisors are the most frequent perpetrators of bullying, followed by other senior colleagues. These findings emphasise the role of hierarchy and power imbalance in facilitating or exacerbating bullying.
– Only 11% of respondents had reported incidents of bullying.
Our ability to advise effectively on the #MeToo movement is undermined if we do not address the risk of hypocrisy.
Addressing the findings, IBA President, Horacio Bernardes Neto, said,
“Bullying and sexual harassment are widespread in legal workplaces. Some of us have experienced it ourselves. Many of us have witnessed it. Others have heard about it from colleagues.”
“For the first time at a global level, this research provides quantitative confirmation that bullying and sexual harassment are endemic in the legal profession.”
“Lawyers who are bullied or harassed are unlikely to perform at their best; this survey indicates that they leave their workplaces and, in some cases, the profession altogether.”
“Following the global #MeToo movement, the legal profession has regularly been called upon to advise other sectors on these issues. Our ability to advise effectively and drive broader societal change is undermined if we do not address the risk of hypocrisy.”