Freshfields mulls female quotas

It’s partnership retreat season and strangely enough France seems to be a popular choice for the UK’s top firms. Farrer & Co chose Le Touquet for its shindig, while Allen & Overy (A&O) gathered its partnership into two hotels in Monte Carlo (well, they speak French there, anyway).

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, meanwhile, has chosen Paris as an idyllic getaway for its partners. One topic that is likely to be up for discussion there is women – or the lack of them.

You see, Freshfields is mulling whether formal targets would help it get more women into its partnership (see story), after every ranking you can possibly find showed the firm lagging behind its magic circle stablemates at promoting women.

So now the firm is thinking about introducing targets for the number of women that get put forward for partnership each year. Other options on the table include more flexible working methods and mentoring.

All firms (so they tell us, anyway) are keen to improve female and minority ethnic representation at more senior levels, yet the Norwegian-style use of quotas and targets remains divisive.

Addleshaw Goddard and Clifford Chance were the first firms to set targets for women, followed by Simmons & Simmons (29 November 2010).

Others, like A&O, aim to increase female representation at partner level and in management positions by creating the right environment in which women can progress (through things like flexible working for partners) but shy away from mandatory figures.

You could see it as heartening that Freshfields is attempting to tackle the issue. Or maybe the partners just couldn’t bear another few days holed up in a conference room in one of the most romantic cities in the world with so few laydeez.