Deborah Gray, one of three founding Directors at Totum Partners considers why gender statistics in the legal sector may not be revealing the whole story of how women are impacting the profession.
Women still have some way to go to be fairly and equally represented in the workplace. As the recent publication of gender pay gap figures go to show, there are issues across sectors – although some fair better than others. Financial services and construction, for instance, have particularly large gender pay gaps, but law firms are not far behind, and that’s when the figures do not include partner pay – add that into the mix and the percentages at many firms soar.
Useful though these statistics are, however, they don’t reveal some of the specific trends underlying the data. Here at Totum, for example, we specialise in the recruitment of business services professionals into the legal sector. We cover all functions – marketing, finance, HR and IT, as well as newly emerging teams that don’t always sit neatly in the traditional organisational structure, such as project management, innovation, pricing and risk.
We know that law firms struggle to retain female lawyers at more senior levels – hence the large pay gaps when partner numbers are included. While women made up 48% of lawyers in law firms in 2017, just 33% of partners were women. At the largest firms, that figure dropped to just 29%.
But in our business services area of law, women are doing far better. In the early part of 2018, we spent some time collating our diversity statistics for Totum activity through 2017. While in keeping with most UK businesses, we know that more can be done to promote diversity, in areas including ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
But we were particularly pleased that our statistics show that of the candidates that signed up with us from 1 January to 31 December 2017, 56% were female and 44% male. This is also reflected in our personal experience both at application and placement stage. Since we made our first placements into business services functions in law over 20 years ago, we have seen a steady rise in the number of women joining the profession across all business services functions.
Women in business services are also making headway at more senior levels – in ‘head of’ and director business services roles. In the work where we are retained by clients to make a placement (typically the more senior roles), the numbers of women we placed in 2017 was 50% and in 2016 was 57%. In addition, whilst we find that more men on average are shortlisted for these roles than women, the actual placement figures are more evenly proportioned. The takeaway? Given a chance, women often pip men to the post?
We know that much more needs to be done. The legal profession must work harder to retain talented women at more senior levels across the board, and particularly in their partnership ranks. But in our line of work, we have been privileged to see a pattern emerging – of increased numbers of talented women making a huge impact on the growth and sophistication of business services in law.
Such an example is at Reed Smith, where two of the ‘Chief’ roles are taken by women: Sadie Baron is the firm’s Global Chief Marketing Officer and Lucy Dillon the Chief Knowledge Officer. We want to see more of this – if only because we know that women in the board room make a real and positive difference to business (a CBI event we recently attended highlighted that a woman in the boardroom reduces the chances of bankruptcy by 20%!).
We take pride in playing our part in changing the perception that law only favours white British men. Because increasingly this isn’t the case. More options for women in law are opening up at all levels of seniority, but also on more flexible terms too. Yes, law has some catching up to do here against other sectors – some traditions die hard. But we see more firms willing to negotiate flexible contracts – part-time, working-from-home, flexible hours or other such arrangements. There is increased understanding that this is how firms will retain talented women who typically take the lion’s share of the care when children are born.
So, yes, the journey is far from over. But nor do the statistics tell the whole story. For women interested in career opportunities in law, there are many positive avenues to explore.
If you would like more information on Totum please visit our website where you will also find a number of roles at all levels.