With the April deadline looming for UK employers with over 250 employees to report their gender pay results, you cannot miss the increasing amount of press being devoted to gender equality related issues. In the recent Law Society Gazette (8 th January), an interesting article on the handful of law firms that have already reported back referenced how some disparities still remain. It also noted that many other law firms are yet to finalise their reports. This is understandable as there are many misconceptions around what the data actually infers and this needs to be sensitively dealt with.
Whilst law firms have in the past been slow to recognise progressive practices around gender diversity, this is no longer the case. Legislative changes and changes to how we work more generally given the advances in technology now means that law firms are often keen to showcase the initiatives they are taking to support women in respect of pay and progression. This is critically important as the data tells us that more than three quarters of those who now work in law firms are women. In the past, women were often clustered in the lower grades but this is changing and whilst imbalances remain at Partner level, this metric is improving generally across the board. Happily, the modern law firm is very much aligned with best practice and has long since accepted that it needs to be a meritocracy in order to be successful and attract the best. This reflects mainstream research done by McKinsey & Company as well as others:
“According to McKinsey & company, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41% in terms of return on equity and by 56% in terms of operating results”
My own firm which I previously worked at in Dubai had a female Managing Partner for many years which in itself spoke volumes about how far law firms have come globally.
Law firms have made women feel more comfortable getting back to work. Firms have recognised the additional childcare responsibilities that women have to deal with ensuring that they are supported when they have to prioritise the wellbeing of their child/children without being made to feel uncomfortable. Large international law firms in particular have gone to great lengths to ensure female employees get the support and flexibility they require.
I suspect that gender equality may still be a topic some law firms are uncomfortable discussing. However, as more and more firms continue to do their best effort to break down any barriers to achieving greater gender equality, these law firms will find themselves in the minority.
Those leading the way include Hogan Lovells and the Law Society itself:
“Hogan Lovells has gone even further and is linking diversity outcomes to performance and reward systems of senior partners. Other initiatives, such as The Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme (the DAS) are designed by professional bodies. Now in its tenth year, the DAS aims to address three key barriers to fair access to a career as a solicitor: finance; professional contacts; and opportunities to gain work experience. “
As professionals working in the recruitment sector, we can see how important it is that law firms continue to work on this topic. There will always be a shortage of “good candidates” and “good candidates” want to work for “good firms”. A core requirement for many of what a “good firm” should be is ultimately one where you can feel confident that merit is recognised and other labels around gender, ethnicity etc. play no part in determining the outcome. Young people now entering the legal profession can be more confident than ever that they will be entering into a professional environment where simply treating everyone well is the defining logic.
Chris Lipscomb is a Director at Blue Pencil Legal and the former HR Director of Al Tamimi, the largest regional law firm in the Middle East. Aside from advising clients on suitable candidates for their opportunities, Blue Pencil provides interview skills training and coaching/development for lawyers in the UK and globally.
Sonam Ahmed is a Recruitment Consultant at Blue Pencil Legal and is currently studying law. She is a member of the Asian Lawyers Association and is involved in advising and supporting lawyers on career placements in the South West of England as well as the Middle East.