During this Spring’s Partner promotion announcements, there has been a flurry of positive gender diversity headlines from law firms. We are seeing the first female Partners and Heads in institutions, a rush of gender diversity target achievements, and there are even positive moves on maternity packages and pay gaps to boot.

However, in the background there are still articles regularly flowing proclaiming failure in gender diversity at top law firms and heralding changes which promise to complicate new found flexibility in the legal workplace.

As we near the marker of 100 years of women in law (the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 passed allowing women to enter the industry), we look at the news stories on both sides, beginning with the most recent rounds of promotions.

Female Promotions – a closer look

This year there have already been a slew of stories heralding exclusively or heavily female-focused promotion rounds.

Legal Week started us off in March, reporting that Pinsent Masons had surpassed their 25% female Partner target with the promotion of 11 women, out of a total of 16 Partner promotions. This was quickly followed by their report on Gowling WLG’s UK promotions, in which four out of five new Partners were women. You can read their full overview of Pinsent’s promotions HERE, and Gowling’s HERE.

April and May have offered headline news in the shape of Travers Smith’s first ever all-female round of promotions, with four women made up to Partner, Mishcon’s third majority-female promotion round in a row, and Kennedys with another exclusively female Partnership bump.

You can read further details regarding Travers Smith’s four new Partners on Legal Business HERE, and on their own website HERE. Mishcon’s female Partnership run is reported on The Lawyer HERE, and there is plenty about the new Partners at Kennedys, along with this year’s lateral hires over on their own website HERE.

Added to these diversity-positive statistics are the impressive achievements of Litigation Partner Sally Davies, who last month became Meyer Brown’s first London female Senior Partner (reported on their own website), and Dr Pippa Rogerson, the ex-Clifford Chance lawyer who has just been announced as Cambridge college Gonville and Caius’ first female head in their 669-year history. Read about this monumental move on Legal Cheek.

 Firm Initiatives

In addition to promoting their female solicitors, law firms have been creating news with moves to support and retain their female employees.

Earlier this month, Legal Week reported that Travers Smith were considering the implementation of career breaks for new parents, with training support provided. Read the full story HERE.

Pinsent Masons has just acquired Brook Graham, the specialist diversity and inclusion business, once again pushing the subject into the spotlight. Legal Business covers the acquisition HERE.

Cleary has upped its maternity provisions by 50% in London, in a bid to stay attractive to female lawyers. Eligible women at the firm will now receive 30 weeks of full pay, with paternal leave staying at four weeks of full pay. Law 360 covers the change HERE.

Law firm clients are also demanding more, with HP vowing in February to withhold 10% of fees from firms failing to meet diversity requirements. Legal Week covers the full story HERE.

Finally, some of the top law firms in the UK are now demanding more effort to increase diversity by factoring in individual partners’ efforts to improve the balance, and factoring this into performance reviews. We go back to Legal Week for the full story HERE.

On Balance

Of course, for every headline trumpeting the advance of women to high-powered positions, there is another decrying the poor stats from firms missing targets and seemingly missing the potential of their talented female employees. Added to this is the general consensus that, given the statistics, firms are still a long way from real equality.

Leeds University Business School published an excellent article summarising the issue – that there is no longer a barrier preventing women from entering the legal profession, but once you look at gender diversity within Partnership role, something is clearly still going awry. You can read their take on their website HERE.

The Solicitors Journal makes a similar discovery when delving into the Law Society’s most recent diversity research data, finding that whilst 40% of male solicitors make partnership, the same is true for less than 20% of female solicitors. Their report can be viewed HERE.

And the outlook may not be quite as promising as has been hinted, with Fortune reporting that in the US, gender diversity programs have not shifted the ratio of women in senior law firm positions. Their evidence is presented HERE.

In summary, according to the legal press it is clear that the issue of gender diversity in law firms, particularly at the higher levels, is a significant topic. We must take away a positivity around the fact that the imbalance is being heavily discussed and there is a definite desire for change. However, there is a long way to go, and much work to be done, before we will see a significant shift in female Partner numbers. This is a time that the legal world must come together to tackle the issue of retaining and promoting female talent, whether they choose to start a family or not.

To discuss how we at Espero Consulting are pushing to ensure no female talent is lost, contact Chief Executive Simon Chadwick at simon.chadwick@esperoconsulting.com or call 0845 241 2127.