There has been a spate of news recently regarding the perennially low number of female partners in large law firms. Two recent surveys paint a rather gloomy picture, but the good news is that some firms are actively trying to promote the progression of women in the profession by setting targets for the number of women partners within their firms.
First, the bad news. The latest National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms reports that women lawyers constitute a mere 15% of the equity partner ranks, and slightly over 26% of non-equity partners in the typical AmLaw 200 firm. If this sounds all too familiar, you’re right. There has been essentially no change in the equity partner statistic for the seven-year lifespan of the survey; the non-equity partner statistic has barely budged – it grew one percentage point from last year.
Across the pond, the story is much the same. This year’s The Lawyer UK 200 revealed that female partners make up just 23.5% of all partners and only 9.4% of all equity partners across the UK’s 100 top-grossing firms. Among the elite Magic Circle firms, female lawyers constituted 14.6% of total partners and about 13.5% of equity partners.
There is good news on the horizon, however. According to a recent story in Legal Week, some firms are aiming to improve upon the number of female partners within their ranks by stating clear and measurable objectives. They’ve made a commitment to close the gender gap by setting targeted goals for female partner numbers, typically in the range of 25 to 30% of the partnership.
For example, Hogan Lovells, which currently has 21% women partners, has set a ten-year target for the firm, with the aim of a 30% female partnership by 2022. The firm plans to achieve this goal through a “global diversity plan, with numerical goals set to measure its progress.” Hogan is also dedicating itself to increasing the number of women in management roles from the current 28% to 30% by 2015. This approach resembles the “leadership pipeline” we touched on last month in our post on women in law firm management.
Legal Week reports that other firms have also begun to set targeted numbers. These include King & Wood Mallesons, which has set a target of 30% women for its Australian partnership. Ashurst is also joining in, and wants to have women in 25% of its management positions by 2014. Clifford Chance has stated that the firm’s “ambition” is that women should make up at least 30% of its partnership, and Eversheds, according to The Lawyer, aims to have a 25% female partnership by 2016.
In our post last month, we mentioned a study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), in which it was reported that 90% of executives interviewed saw a link between gender and the success of their company. Law firms are also beginning to acknowledge this connection. As Margot King, head of diversity at Eversheds, said in The Lawyer, “The market has stopped seeing this as a women’s issue and started seeing it as a business issue.”
The study also suggested that companies set quantifiable objectives for recruiting, retaining and promoting women into leadership positions, an approach that we are now seeing at a handful of large firms. Daniel Winterfeld, diversity and inclusion partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, in The Lawyer, sums it up:
“People realise that they’re wasting money if they have all these women at trainee level who then walk out the door to a competitor or to a client later on. It’s all about merit – how do you value and how do you judge merit? It’s subjective and we need to challenge that. Targets are critical because if you don’t know where you’re going you don’t know how to get there.”
Posted by Marianne Purzycki