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Meet Emma McIlveen

The latest podcast episode of Activist Lawyer features Emma McIlveen, a barrister who primarily specialises in employment law. She has a special interest in pregnancy discrimination and vulnerable claimants.

Prior to qualifying as a barrister, she was a Kennedy scholar at Harvard University. Emma now publishes a monthly employment law newsletter ‘McIlveen on Employment’ and Emma co-founded an Advanced Employment Course at the Institute for Professional Legal Studies.

In 2021, she was shortlisted for a Next100Years Inspirational Women in Law award and recently completed a global leadership programme delivered by Cambridge University. Outside of the Bar, she is a mother of three and is passionate about country music, reflexology and breastfeeding. 

Emma’s interview on Activist Lawyer is available to listen to now and across all major streaming platforms or via

We caught up with Emma to talk about what activism means to her.

How important is activism?

The word activism initially made me uncomfortable. I had a vision in my head of standing with a placard protesting for change on the streets. However, when you look into the definition of activism, it means taking action to bring about change. This can include small steps. Throughout history, women have been involved in activism, whether that be in their homes, workplaces or the wider public sphere. The importance of small courageous steps should not be underestimated.

Can we use the law effectively as a tool for activism?

Yes, we absolutely can, particularly within Northern Ireland. Challenges that are brought before the courts in NI can have a massive impact in terms of encouraging change within our society. Lawyers can also be involved in initiatives to improve access to justice by getting involved in committees which are relevant to their practice area.

Tell us about a career milestone / case that will stay with you forever

In 2013, I was awarded a Kennedy scholarship to enable me to study at Harvard for an academic year. This experience was life changing, opened my eyes to the possibilities which existed outside of Northern Ireland and made me believe that anything I could dream was possible.

Does your current practice specialise in a specific area? Yes, I specialise in employment law and have a particular interest in pregnancy discrimination and vulnerable claimants. For others interested in employment law, a good way to keep on top of topical issues within employment law is to get involved with the Employment Lawyers Group NI. More information can be found on our website-

What is the most important change to the law that you feel needs to be addressed now?

Changing the law to enable women to know male colleagues’ salaries. If this was brought in, this would be a massive step in addressing gender & ethnicity pay gaps.

If it becomes law, the Equal Pay Information and Claims Bill 2020 will give employees the right to know what their colleagues are paid and will require companies with at least 100 employees to report their gender and ethnicity pay gap.


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Emma’s employment law newsletter can be found here:

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