Female lawyers seminar hosted by Canadian Bar Association criticized

WatchAn event hosted by the Canadian Bar Association is coming under fire for its focus on women, and how they dress while practicing law. Mary Griffin reports.

B.C.’s Supreme court is gender-neutral when it comes to dress code for lawyers.

Robes are mandatory for men and women, creating an environment that on the surface, shows equality.

Now an event aimed at female lawyers and how they look, hosted by the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association, is facing backlash.

“I was a little bit taken aback,” said lawyer Sarah Leamon, who added the event should not be gender-specific.

“It puts female lawyers under a different set of assumptions and guidelines and expectations and their male counterparts. And already we’re battling against, you know, a completely male-dominated industry here in order to try to make it on our own.”

The all-female list of speakers at the event includes a lawyer who started a fashion line, and a fashion stylist.

The course description reads in part, “…the wardrobe of a female lawyer has been constructed through a male gaze and resulted in limiting women’s dressing choices to items such as the skirt suit for example, particularly in settings such as the court room.”

“Putting those types of standards, exclusively on the shoulders of female lawyers is unfair,” Leamon said.

“It’s discriminatory, it’s harmful.  It’s really confusing when we equate the way a woman looks and their physical appearance to empowerment and their level of success or competence.  That’s a very dangerous narrative to be pushing, and quite frankly I expect better from the Canadian Bar Association.”

The organizer, the Women Lawyers Forum BC issued a statement that said, “Wednesday’s program will promote individuality in women who practice law and encourage everyone to maintain their own sense of self in a profession that has expected particular forms of dress for many years.”

“The real issue here is that it drives home that women’s worth,” Leamon said.

“And what they can contribute is going to be a direct reflection of how they look, how they dress, how they present themselves. and that is completely antiquated.”

No one from the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association was available for an interview Wednesday.

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Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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