OPINION - The Garrick Club will now accept women members — why did it take 193 years?


After nearly two centuries of exclusion, the Garrick Club has finally been dragged into the 21st century by agreeing to open its doors to women members.

I have no issue with men only social spaces, but clearly this Covent Garden club, packed with the powerful elite, was a problem.

High ranking male legal professionals proliferate the membership, and careers in the Bar are built on the types of relationship one can cultivate in a private club.

Excluding women from these networking opportunities contributes to deep issues of gender disparity in the profession. Over half of solicitors are women, but men constitute 71 per cent of large law firm partners, 80 per cent of KCs, and 72 per cent of judges. Just two of the Supreme Court’s 12 judges are women.

It was only when the membership were publicly named and shamed that the balance tipped

It's been over 100 years since the first female solicitors were allowed to practice in the UK, so surely by now there should be fairer representation. The Garrick's boys’ club mentality is at the heart of the culture that holds women back.

Since starting to campaign on this issue, many women barristers and KCs have shared with me their experiences of sexism at work, including none other than leading barrister Cherie Blair KC. She recounted: “Forty-five years ago, I was left standing outside the Garrick while my supervisor took my fellow pupil Tony Blair inside. It’s outrageous that so little progress has been made since then.”

In the end, after years of relentless petitioning on the issue, it was only when the membership were publicly named and shamed that the balance tipped. Following this new transparency, high profile members realised their association with a discriminatory organisation was incompatible with their public roles. Some resigned, but in some cases, only once forced to by their outraged colleagues. Even then a vote from the two thirds of members required to permit women appeared elusive and the final shift came from a “reinterpretation” of the club’s rules.

But a win is a win.

The road to gender equality is paved with thousands of small battles, and today we have shown that even the Garrick’s old guard cannot escape this long march of history.

Emily Bendell is a fashion entrepreneur