The latest diversity league table from the Black Solicitors Network has shown that while a small number of firms are nearing a 50/50 male-to-female partner ratio, there is still a large drop off in female representation between law firms’ junior and senior ranks.
The table, released yesterday (14 November 2012), revealed that Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, Pannone, Trowers & Hamlins and Winckworth Sherwood were among the top performers when it comes to female representation at partner level. That said, the respective proportions were still relatively low at 39 per cent, 39 per cent, 35 per cent and 42.5 per cent.
Here, senior female partners at those firms share their experiences of making it to the top.
Winckworth Sherwood partner Andrea Squires
Some firms get it right and some firms don’t. I’ve had my fair share of the difficulties you get as a female partner or a female associate, though this firm is very supportive.
You’ve got to develop a reputation and a client base. You have to be respected in both the firm and by clients. You have to be prepared to make the commitment. There’s no point promoting for the sake of it. People have to contribute to the business or the business doesn’t survive. I think quotas create artificial practices, though some good does come out of them.
The sort of challenge I’ve faced in the past is not being taken seriously and not being given flexibility. The classic of male juniors being promoted ahead has happened. It undermines your confidence and your reputation with clients and in the firm.
I don’t think there have been dramatic changes in the last 10 or even 20 years, but with the focus on sustainable business practice I don’t think any firm can rely on client loyalty come what may. In an industry which is very competitive that focus on competition means the right people are coming forward.
There is pigeon-holing going on, which makes me nervous that it might affect female candidates. I think there is a tendency at some firms to expect women not to have the same career aspirations, to think that a job is enough for female solicitors.
Pannone managing partner Emma Holt
I’ve felt very supported through two periods of six-month maternity leave. In my view that’s something to be celebrated. Work is work and I think people sometimes tend to forget that and lose perspective. Maternity leave can be overplayed and that can be troubling. Employers need to take a view that women are there for the whole of their careers.
I’m not a believer in people having to get to one stage to be offered something and then getting to the next stage to be offered something else. There are some high-flyers and there are people who take their time along the course to develop and things need to be offered on an individual basis.
Matthew Arnold & Baldwin partner Clare Stothard
I was happy working in the City but I knew that women who had children at that time tended to either not return to work or returned in a non-facing client role. I came to MAB when I was three years qualified and made partner in 1996 when I was 30. I had my first child six months later.
I was made an equity partner in 1999 when I was pregnant with my second child, which I think sent a strong message of support that you can have children and have a very successful career. I’m now chairman of the management board and lead, with another partner, the banking, finance and litigation team, which is 45 per cent of MAB.
I think there’s now a real recognition with clients that if their lawyer isn’t sitting at their desk it doesn’t mean that they’re not working or not available. The make-up of clients has changed. We have 30 per cent female equity partners and 38 per cent equity and I’m very proud of that but I don’t think you can ever be complacent.
Trowers & Hamlins senior partner-elect Jennie Gubbins
It’s a difficult philosophical question [whether diversity quotas are a good idea]. I’m an early feminist – if you’d asked me 30 years ago I would have said no. In education, half of us were women but half of us definitely aren’t partners. Something’s not working. Do role models help? I hope so, I really do. It’s about becoming normal. There is a point where you have enough of a mass that it becomes normal.