Today is International Women’s Day, with the 2018 theme of the campaign ‘#PressforProgress’, highlighting issues of gender parity internationally. In the UK, 2018 also marks the centenary of the first women to get the vote, adding further weight to this year’s campaign.

Since the issue of gender parity is a common one in the field of law, attracting increasing amounts of attention, today presents a meaningful opportunity to reflect on the progress made in the industry, and the work still desperately needed.

Law is an industry steeped in tradition, often slow to shift direction. However, many firms now recognise this fact and are pushing to make changes.

It is accepted knowledge that although women are equally represented in firms at the start of their career, the higher you climb, the more that representation falls away. Numerous initiatives have not yet redressed the balance, but each year brings increased pressure on firms to ensure their effectiveness.

What is happening to all the talented female solicitors that prevents them from achieving partnership at the same rates as men? To look at some of the reasons for the gender gap, we begin with the very traditional mindset which still exists in some firms. Men are in the clear majority when looking at leadership roles, and some when hiring are not looking to buck that trend. The ‘boys club’ is sadly not yet obsolete.

However, with each new generation of trainee, associate and partner, the attitude will diminish, modern rational thinking will be valued, and it will be those not taking advantage of the swathes of female legal talent who will be the losers in this scenario.

This is not the only aspect of legal life in which tradition still rules. Although work/life balance is beginning to be addressed, the cliched view of solicitors tied to their desks into the small hours still holds true in many circles.

And family is of course still a factor. More women take parental leave than men, and for far longer. This necessitates a return to work at some stage, but the time out of the industry can lead to reduced confidence for solicitors in their own ability, and from law firm partners, seemingly more comfortable recruiting those with an uninterrupted work history.

Fortunately, the legal industry is seeing a flexible working revolution not tied solely to gender. As new generations join the industry, the demand for flexibility grows. Plenty of people now want high quality work, a meaningful career, and the chance to enjoy their life outside of the office. As technology gives us the increasing opportunity to work from wherever we chose, reasons to deny these desires and insist on face time in the office are diminishing. This benefits everyone, regardless of gender, but provides new options for women choosing to raise a family and in need of some level of flexibility to do this.

In April of this year, all companies, including law firms, with more than 250 employees will need to declare their gender pay gaps (although not at equity partner level, a position with one of the worst levels of gender parity in the industry).

Once the figures are published, those women making career moves will be able to see how much worse off they will be at each large firm, making it now enormously in the firm’s interest to redress the balance. Firms not taking the necessary steps to equal the equation may find they lose out on top talent repeatedly.

Law firms are also coming under increasing amounts of pressure from clients – with some large corporates pledging to hold back percentages of payments owed should certain diversity criteria not be met. Others not taking quite such definitive measures are still including diversity in their criteria when initially selecting a law firm partner. Once again, the law firms unable to keep up with the push towards equality for female lawyers will be the ones who miss out.

 

Espero Consulting is proud to lead the charge for all lawyers to access greater flexibility in their career. Speak to Simon Chadwick on +44 845 241 2127 or at: simon.chadwick@esperoconsulting.com to discuss our innovative approach with our SmartAgile® opportunities – enabling better work/life balance for everyone.