UK’s top firms fail to increase female equity partner figures
14 September 2011 | By Matt Byrne
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Exclusive Magic circle numbers static over five years; Simmons worst performer, Ashurst most improved
Efforts to grow the numbers of female equity partners at the UK’s largest firms are failing, figures in this month’s The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report 2011 reveal.
Despite apparent management efforts to increase the number of female partners and the increasingly widespread introduction of flexible or part-time working practices, numbers are failing to grow significantly.
Taylor Wessing tops the table of firms that have increased the proportion of female partners over five years, posting a 5 per cent growth since 2006. But the firm has failed to translate that into a significant increase of female partner numbers in the equity. Last year, just 9 per cent of Taylor Wessing’s global equity partnership was female, second only to worst performer Simmons & Simmons, which managed 6 per cent.
The picture among the UK’s four largest firms is little better. Clifford Chance, Freshfields Brukhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy showed zero change proportionately, while Linklaters showed a reduction of 1 per cent.
The Lawyer’s figures underline the impact of the widespread cuts among senior partner positions at Freshfields that have taken place over the past five years.
Freshfields now has 15 per cent fewer female equity partners than in 2006. Simmons has the largest headcount drop, with 47 per cent fewer female equity partners now than five years ago.
“What kind of signal do these statistics send to any top female graduates coming out of university today?” asked Mark Brandon of Motive Legal Consulting. “The overall issue is that at the top end the law is a really difficult place for women to succeed. Even if you’re not a woman who wants children it’s almost inevitable you won’t be in the club with
Simmons also has the poorest record at increasing its proportion of female equity partner numbers over the past five years. Since 2006, the proportion of equity that is female has fallen by 4 per cent.
Simmons’ management claims it is making significant progress in improving its current position as the top 20 firm with the least number of female equity partners in the City.
Managing partner Jeremy Hoyland said he recognised that the firm faced a challenge and had been taking steps to turn things around. “We’ve been much more proactive in encouraging flexible working, which is now something taken up by 16 per cent of people across the firm on an ad-hoc basis and 10 per cent of partners,” said Hoyland. “We’ve also been looking at benefits not just for women but for the whole firm.”
At the beginning of September, Simmons introduced free access to the firm’s back-up services for family care. This year the firm also improved both maternity and paternity benefits.
Hoyland added that in the firm’s most recent partnership promotions round, four out of the 13 associates made up were women and two were on maternity leave during the process.
“We know there’s an issue but we’re making progress,” said Hoyland.
The findings coincide with recent research by the Chartered Management Institute which found that the gender pay gap for female executives in the general workplace has grown this year (see Opinion).
In 2010-11, the firm with the greatest proportion of female equity partners - SJ Berwin - managed just 20 per cent. SJ Berwin, along with Clyde & Co and Ashurst, was also one of the three firms that improved the ratio between male and female equity partners the most - by 7 per cent - over the past five years.