Ashurst latest to set diversity targets in bid to improve gender representation

Ashurst is aiming to ensure that 40 per cent of all partner promotions are female by 2018 as well as handing a quarter of management positions to women in a radical overhaul of the firm’s diversity policy.

The gender targets were set at the firm’s first board meeting since its full financial merger with Blake Dawson went live in November 2013 (26 September 2013).  The diversity initiative – aimed at aiding full integration between Ashurst and legacy Ashurt Australia – formally kicked off yesterday (3 June).

As part of the overhaul, managing partner James Collis is establishing the firm’s first-ever international advisory group on diversity and inclusion. About six partners will participate in the working group, alongside the firm’s HR and diversity professionals.

Ashurst’s new approach will see divisions and office heads set their own objectives and priorities, and the firm intends to put a strengthened focus on transparency.

Collis said: “We’re obviously proud of the diverse array of talent and expertise we already have at Ashurst but there is far more we need to do to build on this.”

The figures speak for themselves. At the end of the 2012/13 financial year just 13.6 per cent of the legacy Ashurst’s partnership were women – the equivalent to 33 out of a total 242, that’s slightly down on 2011/12 when 31 of the total 225-strong partnership were women (13.7 per cent).

In terms of partner promotions the firm has fared slightly better. In its first promotions round since the merger, a third of the 15 made up were women (24 April 2014) compared with one out of 12 at legacy Ashurst a year earlier (23 April 2013).

At present, 27 per cent of the firm’s most senior management positions are held by women.

A major review of the firm’s development and promotions systems was launched in July last year after it emerged that every trainee who failed to secure a newly qualified (NQ) role at the firm came from a BME (black and minority ethnic) background (11 July 2013).

At the time the firm insisted that the retention process was dependent entirely upon trainee performance and the firm’s capacity to accommodate their departmental preferences on qualification. However, it put the system under review “to check for potential bias affecting under-represented groups”.

Ashurst’s gender targets are on a par with interim goals set by Pinsent Masons (3 March 2014) and Herbert Smith Freehills (13 March 2014) in March.

Both firms are aiming for 25 per cent of their partnerships to be female within four and three years respectively. All three of these firms go a step further than Allen & Overy,which is considering introducing a 20 per cent female partnership target by 2020 in an effort to promote gender diversity (16 May 2014).