The focus of this panel session was the gender-based disparities in the legal profession with respect to opportunities, career progression and remuneration of women in the legal profession, ways of addressing these disparities. The session was also convened to explore avenues to enhance the performance and participation of women in all areas of legal practice with a view to promoting equity and fairness in the Bar’s approach to employment, appointments, remuneration, and the elevation of women.

The panel comprised of the lead speaker in the person of Prof. Dorathy Udeme Ufot, SAN, Visiting Professor at Baze University in Abuja and Managing Partner at the law firm of Dorothy Ufot & Co. Others were Mr. Asamah Kadiri, SAN (Partner at Jackson, Etti & Edu); Mrs. Folashade Alli, C.Arb (Principal Partner at Folashade Alli & Associates); Mr. Kunle Ajagbe (Partner at Aidan Partners); Mrs. Amina Suzanah Agbaje (National President, International Federation of Women Lawyers), Mrs. Chinyere Okorocha ( Chairperson NBA Women Forum)and Ms. Prada Uzodimma, daughter of Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma (who represented the First Lady of that state, Her Excellency, Mrs. Chioma Uzodimma).

In her lead presentation, Prof. Dorathy Ufot, noted that the topic under review presupposed that the place of women in the legal profession was weak and accordingly requires to be strengthened. On the contrary, she asserted, women have made significant progress in the legal profession in the last four decades, even though there’s much room for improvement.

She went on to list the five areas of legal practice in which women are active to include the Bar, the Bench, In-House, the Academia and the Public Sector and in answer to her own question as to how they were faring, said women were prevailing against the odds.

As an example, she reminded the assembled the guests that women now make up the majority of Law School graduates in Nigeria, as well as half of the new associates in Nigeria’s law firms. Women have also made tremendous strides at all levels of the country’s judiciary, she said, from the High Court/Federal High Court to the Supreme Court. In spite of the above progress, however, Prof. Ufot lamented that many historic challenges related to advancing women’s careers in the legal profession still persist.

Paying tribute to female pioneers such as the matriarch of the Bar, Mrs. Folake Solanke (Nigeria’s first female Senior Advocate) and others trailblazers who overcame legal and societal barriers, to rise to the top of their profession, Ufot decried the lingering menace of toxic work place cultures in which women feel less supported than their male counterparts; the uneven playing fields in organizations; lack of opportunities professional development; lack of flexibility on the part of management; lack of representation in leadership and decision-making roles; gender biases and stereotypes; and poor work-life balance. These factors, she says, lead many women in the prime of their careers to leave large law firms to explore opportunities in smaller law firms, as in-house counsel, in government employment, or the academia.

She cited the recent report by the International Bar Association (IBA) which found that 40% of lawyers in Nigeria are women, saying the aim of 50:50 parity by 2030 was the goal of her advocacy group, urging female lawyers to be intentional and focused.

She ended by proffering the following solutions to the challenges militating against female advancement in the legal profession:

Promoting Mentorship

Addressing unconscious bias by creating a more inclusive and equitable work, flexible schedules, can help women navigate the challenges of work-life balance and retain top talent.

Promoting gender pay equity (equal pay for equal work).

Establishing affinity groups and support network; creating spaces for women to connect, share experiences and advocate for one another in a bid to foster a sense of community and empowerment.

Highlighting women’s achievements – celebrate the accomplishments of women in the legal profession to inspire future generations and create a culture of support and encouragement.

Amplifying women’s voices – provide platforms for women to share their expertise, perspective and insights to help increase their visibility and influence within the legal community.

Engaging men as allies. Encourage male colleagues to actively support and champion gender equality initiatives creates a more inclusive and collaborative environment.

Self-knowledge. You must understand that your success at the bar is your personal decision and your own choice. Life is a matter of choices. The choices that we make today definitely shape our tomorrow, not just as female lawyers, but as lawyers and human beings in general.

Embracing the 9 Ps for success. Purpose, Plan, Passion, Persistence, Perseverance, Proactivity, Painstaking, Preparedness, Prayerful.

Focus. You must focus on what you have and not dwell on the things you do not have.

Self-confidence. You must have absolute self-confidence borne out of your skills, integrity and your knowledge of the law.

Having a supportive spouse and a peaceful home.

Another panelist, Mrs. Alli, who spoke next, inclusiveness for women and an enabling environment, noting that there is no shortage of women in the system and that gender based bias must stop

Mr. Ajagbe, on his part, said that women must be in the mainstream of the legal profession because they have more than proved their mettle.

In her contribution, Ms. Uzodimma, the representative of the Imo State First Lady, called for more robust networking opportunities for young female lawyers.

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