Senior management in Malaysia's law sector need to pay attention to gender bias and sexual harassment issues in the workplace.

This was the key finding of a study commissioned by the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), which was aimed to ascertain the working conditions of male and female lawyers in the country.

The study concluded while approximately 51% of the members of the Malaysian bar were found to be female, males are still largely controlling the legal profession. Of the 15 members of the bar council, five were identified as women.

In addition, the study found that of the past 27 bar presidents, only two have been women.

“There is also a perception that women lawyers are less competent and unable to handle big cases and more files,” AWL's report stated.

Out of 195 respondents in the survey, 19 (9.7%) revealed they had experienced some form of sexual propositioning in the course of their work, with the majority of the complainants being women (16 females and three males).

More than 40% of female lawyers also said that having children had a high impact on their career, as compared with 23% of male lawyers.

The survey also highlighted that out of 11 respondents who felt they were bypassed for promotion, six (55%) felt that having children had a high impact on their career.

Female lawyers accounted for four of these six respondents, who felt that they were bypassed for promotion as a result of their need to attend to children or other members of the family.

“We are beyond the debate about whether men and women are equal in the legal profession,” Meera Samanther, president, association of women lawyers, said.

“Whilst men and women have similar professional demands, women have different demands that society expects of them when it comes to home life and it is these differences that need to be recognised.”

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