A&O mulls 20 per cent female partnership target in diversity push

Allen & Overy (A&O) is considering introducing a 20 per cent female partnership target by 2020 in an effort to better promote gender diversity.

Insiders said the firm was looking to shake off its masculine image in an effort to be more female friendly, with A&O global HR director Genevieve Tennant leading the move. 

Nevertheless, A&O had the highest number of female partners in the magic circle last year. At the 2012/13 year end the firm was home to 80 female partners compared to 53 at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

One of the main points of discussion at the magic circle firm has been whether or not to introduce a female partnership target, a decision which was expected to be made within the next week. A spokesperson for the firm said the target had been on the cards for some time and that no decision was imminent.

If the move is approved, the firm is expected to set an interim goal of 20 per cent female partners within five years. In the last financial year, 15.2 per cent of the firm’s partners were women (5 August 2013).

Despite a gradual improvement in the gender balance among senior lawyers over the last two decades, research from The Lawyer’s UK 200 report reveals that women made up just 18.6 per cent of all partners and 15.3 per cent of all equity partners in 2013 (5 August 2013).

Freshfields lags behind all of the magic circle in this area, with women making up just 11.4 per cent of its partners in 2012/13. 

Similar to magic circle rival A&O, the firm considered introducing a target to improve female partner numbers in 2012, when global people partner Richard Norbruis headed a campaign to improve female retention at the firm (25 May 2012). 

A number of firms have set up a female partnership goal in recent months, most recently including Pinsent Masons (3 March 2014) and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) (13 March 2014).

HSF became the first top-10 UK firm to appoint a female CEO after it named global head of disputes Sonya Leydecker as its next co-chief last December (19 December 2013).