THREE female lawyers who have just broken the glass ceiling to be promoted to partners in one of Scotland’s top law firms have revealed that sexism and inequality within the legal profession is still alive and kicking.

Jayne Crawford, Hannah Bennett and Laura Connor, who have all trained and stayed loyal to Thompsons Solicitors for around 11 years, spoke of their disgust at another Scottish law firm which recently held an all-male dinner where their women trainees were forced to work as waitresses. A report by the Leadership Foundation for Women Lawyers, supported by lawyers aimed at getting women into top posts, showed that women were being held back in the legal profession.

The group said that while equal numbers of men and women have graduated from Scotland’s law schools for 30 years, too few women are reaching the top of the profession and too many are leaving the law.

They reported that only 21 per cent of sheriffs and 29 per cent of senators of the College of Justice were women.

Professor Lesley McAra, a former head of Edinburgh Law School and founder of the network, said men get the top jobs more quickly.

She added: “It is vital that the legal profession reflects the society which it serves. In spite of best efforts, too many talented women are leaving the profession.”

However, civil lawyers and all mothers of young children Jayne, 36, from Edinburgh, Hannah, 33, from Dumfries, and Laura, 32, from Glasgow, insist that hard work and a supportive employer have helped them rise through the ranks.

Jayne said: “The fact I feel privileged to be here is reflective of the legal profession as a whole because I think there are other people who are being held back from achieving their idea of success within a firm.

“I have friends who work in the industry where they have male partners in the firm whose wives are at home with the children and they make it very clear to individuals that that is where they think the woman’s role ought to be. They are not supportive of part-time working hours or flexible working policies.”

She said women in the profession are still being held back because of their sex and age.

Jayne added: “I have heard from women who feel they have been overlooked because they are recently married or at a certain age where people think they are going to go off and have children.

“I had thought that the profession had moved on quite a lot from when I was training. I remember going along to a reception and there were older members of the legal profession who thought nothing of patting women on the bottom as they are walking past and it was not that long ago.

“I was somewhat disturbed to hear recently that there is a law firm in Scotland who host all male dinners and at these dinners the female trainees are required to waitress.

“I find it astonishing but I also think there is a reluctance on the individuals who are there to call a firm out on practices like that because they are worried what might happen to their careers. You have five years at university and two years of a traineeship to be sent along to waitress at all-male events. That doesn’t encourage women to stay with a firm.

“I would hope that we will advance to a level where practices like that will be called out because there isn’t a place in the legal profession for that.”

The mother of a four-year-old daughter works with Hannah in the serious and fatal injury units at Thompsons and is also involved in Brake road safety campaigns and Headway brain injuries charity. Hannah, who has a two-year-old daughter, has been involved in high-profile cases like the Clutha tragedy and the bin lorry crash in Glasgow.

She said: “We are flexible with Thompsons and they are flexible with us. That is why it works and why we’ve all been here so long.

“As time goes on women will realise there are employers like Thompsons and there are employers where there is sexism and inequality, there is no need for them to hang about at these places and they can get better employment elsewhere.

“You get the feeling change is coming, it’s just going to take a while.”

Connor, who has a three-year-old son and works with many of Scotland’s trade unions, thinks Scotland is making good progress in the battle for women’s equality.

She said: “Being a parent brings with it more challenges. I wouldn’t say that within this firm you have to work harder just because you are a woman. I think we are making good inroads and the SNP have launched their women’s manifesto that looks very positive. Their increased hours of childcare would be very helpful to many women, especially those starting out who struggle to afford childcare on top of their usual bills.”