Within most UK law firms, women and men are fairly evenly represented in lawyer roles (SRA figures from 2015 indicate 47% of lawyers are women). In larger law firms this figure is lower (c. 27%) and there are further differences in the type of work practiced. In criminal law for example women make up 39% of lawyers, while in private client work they make up 57%. At partnership level across the UK, women comprise around a third of the partner population.
In our survey, 57% of lawyers indicated that they aspired to become partner, with a further 32% reporting that they were unsure (11% did not aspire to partnership). Interestingly, slightly more women (57%) than men (54%) aspired to partnership with more men (15%) indicating that they didn't want partnership compared with just 7% of women. Among this group, the women therefore appear to be more aspirational.
Most of those surveyed (59%) agreed that the profession would benefit from having more female partners, with 35% strongly agreeing (61% of men agreed or agreed strongly and 56% of women agreed or agreed strongly). 41% indicated that they had no preference.
Did the sample support gender diversity targets?
57% of lawyers surveyed indicated that they aspired to become partner
These results suggest that, with some differences in degree, men and women are in agreement over the desirability for equality at partnership level and open to interventions to address it (even while many stop short of agreeing with diversity targets). So, if the playing field is set fair, what further steps are needed to ensure that those early career aspirations are realised?
In our full report we will be making a series of recommendations to respond to the findings. In the meantime two simple and immediate actions are being included in our lawyer development programmes:
- Take steps to understand and record the long term career aspirations of your non-partner lawyers. Establish this baseline to assess over the longer term how well these aspirations are realised or change (gathering information as to the reasons why these aspirations have changed is helpful). Where a lawyer leaves before achieving partnership check in with him or her beforehand to understand more. This information could shed light on the reasons why some lawyers (men and women) are giving up on their partnership aspirations which might lead to constructive changes being identified. We might also ask, is partnership simply the professionally desirable ambition? Is it fully understood and/or an expected response? How do you motivate and retain those not attracted to partnership?
- Increasing the awareness of men and women to the effects of unconscious bias can provide them with a helpful nudge. Helping them become more aware of these biases and their effects, particularly when giving feedback, appraising performance and making promotion decisions, can serve to check them. We'll have further information on this topic here shortly.