Diversity efforts fail to pay off at top end of profession

Firms’ efforts to promote gender diversity in the profession appear to be failing, with the proportion of partners who are women falling at half of the UK top 20.

men vs women

Research for The Lawyer’s UK 200 shows that among the 18 firms to have provided a breakdown of the gender of their partnerships so far, the proportion of women in the partnership has fallen at nine and risen in nine.

Across the firms, women make up 18.6 per cent of all partners – around the same proportion as 2011/12, when they represented 18.7 per cent of all partners.

However there has been some movement in firms’ equity partnerships. In 2011/12, the proportion of equity partners in the top 20 who were female was 14.4 per cent, but this has risen to 15.3 per cent.

A change in the way DLA Piper reports its equity partnership means that firm has seen the biggest change in the proportion of female equity partners, from 30.8 per cent reported in 2011/12 to 12.3 per cent last year. The firm also saw a 1.7 percentage point drop in the proportion of female partners overall, to 18 per cent – or 234 of its 1302-strong global partnership.

Freshfields’ female partnership proportion remains the lowest in the top 20. Just 11.4 per cent of its partners are women – down from 11.9 per cent the previous year – and only 11.2 per cent of its equity partners. 

But the firm with the smallest proportion of women in the equity last year was Clyde & Co. Although women make up 18.5 per cent of its total partnership, only 10.1 per cent of its equity partnership are women. In numerical terms, 54 of Clydes’ 292 partners are women, but only 15 of its 148 equity partners.

Simmons & Simmons has brought three partners into its equity over the year, increasing the proportion of female equity partners from 8 per cent to 10.3 per cent. However its overall female partnership proportion has dropped, with the total number of female partners falling from 29 in 2011/12 to 27 last year, compared to overall growth in the partnership of eight partners.

The merger at Herbert Smith Freehills has had one of the biggest impacts on women partners in the top 20. Whereas in 2011/12 there were 46 women in legacy Herbert Smith’s 270-strong partnership, or 17 per cent, this has risen post-merger to 87 out of 450, 19.3 per cent. Meanwhile women now represent 17.4 per cent of the equity partnership, up from 10.7 per cent in the previous year.

Irwin Mitchell still has one of the highest proportion of women in the partnership, 23.8 per cent, but this has dropped from 31 per cent in 2011/12 after the firm added 30 partners in total but lost three female partners. However its addition of three women to the equity meant that women now make up more than a quarter of the firm’s equity partnership.

The figures follow unchanged numbers in partner promotions in the top 20 this year, with women making up around a third of promotions (7 May 2013).

Female partner proportions, UK top 20

Firm Female partners (%) Female equity partners (%)
  2012/13 2011/12 2012/13 2011/12
Allen & Overy 15.2 14.6 14.0 13.8
Ashurst 13.6 13.8 Not disclosed 14.3
Berwin Leighton Paisner 18.4 16.7 11.0 10.4
Bird & Bird 22.3 23.0 13.9 13.5
Clyde & Co 18.5 15.2 10.1 8.3
CMS 18.4 17.8 13.7 12.5
DAC Beachcroft 27.7 23.8 23 21.6
DLA Piper 18.0 19.7 12.3 30.8
Eversheds 21.9 22.7 15.0 15.0
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 11.4 11.9 11.2 11.7
Herbert Smith Freehills 19.3 17.0 17.4 10.7
Hogan Lovells 21.9 21.5 19.7 18.5
Irwin Mitchell 23.8 31.0 25.4 21.9
Linklaters 15.4 15.2 14.7 14.8
Norton Rose Fulbright 22.1 21.2 19.8 13.3
Pinsent Masons 19.8 20.7 12.7 11.7
Simmons & Simmons 12.8 14.3 10.3 8.0
Taylor Wessing 14.0 15.8 Not disclosed 8.1