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Equal ambition?

Gina Swaim-Rutter looks at the future of partnership in law firms as women continue to struggle to find their place in the traditional model

8 March 2019

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New research published this week revealed that ambition of women to reach partner level still trails male respondents by more than 10%.

Our survey of 3,000 legal professionals found that 76% of men are aiming for partnership or management level compared to only 65% of women.

With this disparity, the quest for employers to ensure better diversity in leadership remains a real challenge. When quizzed on what factors that contribute to a lower interest in reaching partner level, women alluded to ‘stress’ and ‘work life balance’ being the main deterrents.

So, what can law firms do to ensure women are being encouraged into leadership roles to make partnership more desirable?

Create a balance

Steps have already been taken in the right direction in many cases to create an environment which offers better work-life balance.

For example, over the last four years the number of respondents who said flexi-time was offered in their benefits packages has risen by 7% to 22% overall.

This does go some way to helping to create gender parity in childcare, but recent ONS data recently found mothers are still spending 60% more of their day on childcare and household chores than fathers.

Law firms which encourage initiatives such as shared parental leave and find other creative ways to support balancing a family and working life will attract and promote the best female talent.

Stress test

Our data clearly shows that perceptions of partnership are that it will bring high stress and, of course, with the position comes great responsibility.

Less than 10% of men felt stress was the barrier for progressing to partnership but 14% of women cited it as the main reason. Many firms are starting to take workplace wellbeing very seriously and the wider workplace agenda shows this trend is continuing to deepen.

Employers implementing effective resilience training, support services and sign-posting to counselling for example, will likely gain a competitive edge as a business in years to come.

Our research showed an increase in firms offering access to counselling, family hours, and dedicated time for CSR efforts – but this still accounted for less than 1% of respondents.

Could taking a more holistic view of benefits empower women with the confidence that they have the environment in which to thrive and tackle stressful situations head on?

Confidence is key

Women also need employers to foster a culture of confidence in which they feel they can reach whatever level they’re aiming for.

The government’s Rose Review launched today citing a shortage of relatable role models and mentors as being a barrier to women entrepreneurs. The same could be said for the law as there are only nine female senior partners in the top 100 UK law firms.

On a practical level, mentor schemes, sponsorship, access to wider networking opportunities and coaching can transform an individual’s ambitions.

Positive role models are crucial and successful women in the leadership teams and partnerships today should be celebrated in their own right, and for the business.

Gina Swaim-Rutter is managing director at Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment

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