Team moves – why do women partners stay put?

It struck me just yesterday (over a very nice lunch with some female headhunter friends) that of the various partner team moves we have advised on over the last year or so, absolutely none of the teams were led by women partners and only about a third even included women at all.

Why is that? Does it reflect the significantly lower proportion of female than male partners in City firms and particularly in the recently active sectors of funds, capital markets, projects and energy? To some extent probably yes.

But could the general trend also be due to a more cautious attitude on the part of female partners towards the risks inherent in a team move? Certainly female partners in team moves in our experience tend to ask the most questions and appear to be more alive to the potential liability and risks than some of their male peers.

Or perhaps – God forbid – female partners are less ambitious for the big money moves than their male counterparts. Or maybe they just don’t get targeted by head hunters for those big money moves as often as male partners do?

An even more controversial view expressed in some more limited quarters is that possibly some female partners may not inspire the same sort of loyalty in their team as many of their male counterparts: a recent survey of legal PAs in the US suggested that none preferred working with female bosses. It is unclear though whether associates and fellow partners would share the same view.

Another answer may lie in many female partners with children being willing to stick with firms that (more or less) look after them and accommodate their childcare-related flexible working arrangements. This well established longer term loyalty of female partners provides in itself a great business case (if one were needed) for firms to encourage and mentor female lawyers to progress to equity partnership and to support them proactively through and on return from maternity leave, and far beyond.

Mostly likely it’s a combination of some of the above but in some ways, it’s a shame that more women aren’t involved in team moves, as such moves attract profile-enhancing press coverage, can help bridge the pay and promotion gap between female and male partners, and may ultimately inspire and motivate other female lawyers (young and old alike) to be bold enough to reach for the stars.

How we can achieve this is a blog for another day…

Clare Murray is managing partner at CM Murray LLP