Eight candidates for two top roles at Allen & Overy (A&O), and not one woman. For a law firm committed to that 30 per cent target, it’s not a good look.
If you assume – as many do – that current managing partner Wim Dejonghe is the favourite to be senior partner, then the managing partner role is the one that could have revealed the next leadership generation.
Two of the candidates, Andrew Ballheimer and Andrew Trahair, already have management chops: Ballheimer manages the corporate department and Trahair is co-head of the banking department. But there are two partners with no formal departmental experience – banking partner Michael Castle and Tokyo corporate finance partner Simon Black, so clearly it’s not a prerequisite.
I don’t believe for one minute that A&O deliberately discriminates against women, nor that it has some sort of chappish culture that blocks women from the top jobs. But I’m just wondering when magic circle statements about gender parity stop being pious objectives.
I have some observations. Firstly, A&O should get rid of contested elections. They may add to the gaiety of nations, but it’s a Darwinian process. And any process that involves an element of public competition is simply not going to attract women in great numbers. There is a distinct pattern of (yes, socially-constructed) female behaviour in the workplace that needs to be taken into account.
Secondly, A&O women need to step up. The pressure to be a role model is tiring, but you know what, tough. You’re already role models as female partners in a magic circle firm. Are none of you really wanting to take a leading role in shaping the direction of your business? Are you really hiding behind client work? Are you trying to be superwomen outside the law? Do you really think that none of you can do a better job than Ballheimer, Trahair, Castle or Black?
Thirdly, what does it say for A&O’s development programme that it has not identified women leaders? Magic circle firms know perfectly well that women are less likely to put themselves forward. And yet there are female leaders at other firms: Herbert Smith Freehills co-CEO Sonya Leydecker, Berwin Leighton Paisner managing partner Lisa Mayhew, Addleshaw Goddard senior partner Monica Burch, CMS Cameron McKenna senior partner Penelope Warne, Hogan Lovells London managing partner Susan Bright and Stephenson Harwood chief executive Sharon White. So either magic circle firms are recruiting mouse-like women (which I doubt) or they’re not developing their talent well enough.
Fourthly, if we recognise that women are on the whole averse to sticking their head above the parapet, and if firms are culturally worried about quotas, how about this as a short-term experiment. I challenge A&O and the rest of the magic circle to ban male partners as spokespeople for one year. Get women to talk about the firm’s practices, client wins, strategy and the finances. Don’t give them the diversity brief. Get the female partners into the public sphere and allow them to demonstrate their expertise.
Oh, and women partners: don’t mistake blandness for the appearance of competence. Relax, and speak like a human. It hasn’t done David Morley any harm.