Women love the law and legal roles. This has now been proven and shown in recent reports in 2013-2014. Between July 2012 and 2013, there has been a swing towards a majority of women being accepted for admissions in firms to 60%.
The overall impression seems to be that where once law and legal services lagged beyond some of the other professional services, it is now surging ahead when it comes to diversity. Women now make up 61% of law firm trainees in England and Wales according to the Law Society Statistical report.
With 50% balance in professional services roles held by females –according to the Office for National Statistics it seems that the recruitment and graduate programs for law firms has increased the gender balance in professional services.
Firms believe that there are still a number of different factors ranging from hard work-life balance and working hours, and the allure of in-house, through to women being less likely to aggressively pursue partnership than men and not having enough female role models to inspire and mentor them.
women represented only 28.6% of all UK partner promotions
Although this is over the full sector some companies are still behind the curve and with some companies only having a 22% of UK partners being women. This is an improvement on an average of 7% in Europe and 17% globally. Of the top 20 UK-headquartered firms, women represented only 28.6% of all UK partner promotions in the period 2008 to 2014. This is an improvement but progress has slowed. Some firms are leading the way though such as at Irwin Mitchell, who almost have 50% of partner promotions since 2008 have been female. Check for legal recruitment opportunities in the UK here.
For many years now, the great majority of law firms have each had a diversity policy in place, to guide recruitment and promotion behaviours, among other things. These challenges are on the radar and is proving in 2014 that Six law firms were named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2014, as part of Opportunity Now, the workplace gender campaign from Business in the Community (The Times, 22 May (paywall)).
Despite the overall statistics slowing, new initiatives are being devised in an attempt to overcome these. Several law firms have set gender diversity targets: Linklaters have set a goal of 30% female membership to its executive committee and international board. The ever increasing female networks such as Women In Law London (WILL), Women Working in Law Network and The Black Solicitors Network suggest that awareness of these issues and the determination to fix them is getting stronger. Explore all of our Legal Networks here in the Networking Directory.
The UK Government is also introducing new steps to aid all female professionals. UK regulations are to be introduced in April 2015 to allow parents to share 12 months of parental leave after the birth of a child. Despite the government predicting that between only 2% and 8% of fathers will adopt this scheme, this has been welcomed by much of the legal community, with 40% of partners believing this initiative will help in retaining vital female talent.
Whilst there is no doubt that this activity is well-intentioned, law firms must ensure that inclusion is a genuine desire for prosperity through diversity, and crucially not one of cynical quota filling to please clients and the wider market. Through career support and coaching, law firms must help women to feel encouraged and empowered to apply for partnership, and to realise that traditional obstacles such as childcare and historical majority male heavy need no longer stand in their way of achieving their goals. However this must be balanced with maintaining a strong culture of meritocracy to ensure that only the best talent, both female and male, is recognised and rewarded and not just based upon their gender.