UK’s top firms fail to increase female equity partner figures

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  • These figures, albeit better than 5 years ago in some instances, are pretty disgraceful.

    To guage real progress (or lack of it), each firm should have broken down its trainee intake for the last 20 years into male and female.

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  • It is a sad fact that while firms may be more open to part-time and flexible working than they were 10 years ago, in the main this directly translates into automatically 'checking out' of a career path to partnership.

    So it does not necessarily follow that a large firm that offers these working practices is more likely to make up female partners - the contrary is often true. The larger firms typically introduce these practices for their own benefit - to stop the march of female associate talent out of the door to the next size tier below - not to boost the numbers of female partners.

    The majority of female lawyers, whether willing (or able) to have children are no different to their male counterparts who want to be equity partners, despite what firms' PR machines would have you think. The chosen few get through and the firms shout about them from the rooftops as part of their much needed PR.

    If I had a daughter, I would urge her to read the Law Society's March 2010 report by Insight Oxford Ltd on the subject (Obstacles and barriers to the short and long term career development of female lawyers) and look elsewhere for a rewarding career.

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  • The only option is to lower the bar for partnership for femaile candidates i.e. positive discrimination. The commitment needed to make partnership now in leading London firms is just too much for women given the need to balance with other things, such as child care. Women should be measured against, say, 75% targets as compared with me. However, they should get the same drawings as men once made up as a partner.

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  • 11.53 am - How is it possibly justified for the bar to be lowered for women, just because they would like to have more of a life outside of work? As a father, I would like to be able to spend more time with my children and lighten the childcare load for my wife (who also works) - does this mean the bar should be lowered for me too? If so, great, but I suspect most firms will not see this as a workable model.

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  • In my experience one of the main objections of women rising through the ranks in law is not always outright discrimination per se (though that does exist, but is often difficult to prove), but the host of 'micro-inequities', tiny, day-to-day things which create an environment in some firms which is subtly hostile at the upper end to women (this situation is also very live for minority lawyers of various different situations). This ranges from pretty flagrant stuff - deal commencement meetings always on a Saturday, choice of male-orientated social events - to almost intangible things which give women the idea that a firm is run by and for the 'Boys' Club'.

    Positive discrimination seems to me to solve little, causing resentment on both sides. An acknowledgement that there is a problem, and a spreading of awareness that there is no level playing field as things stand are key elements, but ultimately an organisation has to want to change and many men - as some of the comments show - just don't want to or don't see why they should.

    Clients, obviously, have the potential to try to force their suppliers' hands but this seems unlikely to be able to affect partners in any meaningful way, even if the desire were there, which I'm not sure it is.

    The profession as a whole may ask itself whether it is healthy for its upper echelons to be so entirely dominated by men, but unless there is widespread cultural change, I can't see any radical improvement on the horizon.

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  • This topic always raises the issue of the difficulties female lawyers have juggling work and childcare. Why is childcare still viewed by so many as a female issue?

    How often are men asked (by colleagues, friends or family) whether they'll return to work after becoming a father and, if so, whether they will want to work part-time? There is so often an assumption that if one parent is not going to return to work, or is going to work part-time, it will be the mother. Why should this be the case?

    If more men did the same amount of childcare as their wives/partners then perhaps juggling childcare would be less of a "female lawyers' issue", less of a taboo and more just a fact of life - like in Scandinavian countries.

    Perhaps the starting point is for the female lawyers to demand that their husbands/partners do this - and for more male lawyers to be seen taking on the same amount of childcare responsiblity as their wives/partners?

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  • Poor Simmons - it will only get worse with the backwards step of electing new managing and senior partners who seem set to dismantle some of the previous regime's efforts to create a more enlightened business. Current internal initiatives seem to point to either a major outsourcing operation or a sale of the firm so presumably where they rank in something like a female partners list is of little concern

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  • @ 11:53 so-called "positive discrimination" is just as bad as any form of discrimination - its a pure and simple euphemism for discriminating against thse who don't fit in to the right category, here it would mean if the candidates happened to be male they would suffer for having a Y chromosome.

    All partners should be chosen one one fact only - MERIT. When consdiering candidates, those making the choices should by all means have a set of CV's in front of them but with names and personal info blacked out or cut off from the top. Better yet, get the candidates to fill out an application form with a randomly assigned number on to identify once a decision has been made. Whilst this may result in stagnation of the male-female ratio due to maternity leave, if it is based on merit then I would never object - and with the number of "mature" students already with a kid in tow this ought come down anyway.

    Plus the advantage that fully anonymous selection would abolish the ridicuous old-school-tie network and remove the ability of those partners/HR managers/whoever is responsible who went to a Russell group University to snobbishly choose their own.

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  • Numerical parity seems impossible while firms are unwilling to contemplate part-time partnership as a rule trather than as an exception. Able women tend to have to opt for an alternative career path to partnership if they want to play an active parental role.

    The female partnership figures therefore reflect merely the incidence of women who want partnership more than they want either children or day-to-day parenthood. That doesn't leave firms much to crow about.

    Women also continue to lose out from an androcratic view in partnerships of what constitutes a good lawyer, and a good partner. The quiet influencer is too often drowned out by the arrogant self-publicist. The poor management skills of so many partners makes it bewlidering that this particular penny hasn't yet dropped, and that partner assessment processes haven't been refined to address this.

    Partners choose the new partners they want; and they choose them in their own image.

    I am male, by the way, and my own thirty-something version of arrogant self-promotion was somehow judged enough to merit partnership, back in the day. But the best lawyer I know is my wife, who would have made a far better partner than me, if she hadn't decided to become a PSL instead.

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  • @ Anonymous | 12-Sep-2011 5:05 pm

    One could write a 10,000 essay on the issues surrounding childcare and men and women, but one point that doesn't get raised very often is the following: it is seen as the norm for a woman to have several years "missing" from her CV becuase of childcare. This is much less accepted for men and I am sure that many men worry that a year or two (or more) missing from their CV because they were looking after the kids will be viewed by stuffy employers as the equivilent as a spell in prison.

    It would be great if these old fashioned attitudes were to change but it will take decades more.

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