Corporates racing to meet gender diversity targets for women in senior roles ahead of deadline

Corporates racing to meet gender diversity targets for women in senior roles ahead of deadline

womenonboards_infographic_landscapeImproving diversity and closing pay gaps still remain an issue across the legal sector and FTSE 350 companies, despite progress having been made in the past 5 years.

This week the government has launched a consultation into reducing the gender pay gap, calling for companies with more than 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees. The government are also "taking action to make sure workplaces are fit for the 21st century, so that more women can reach senior positions" with a number of initiatives including promising more free hours of childcare per week.

Life has changed and the way we do business has changed; the mindset of individuals is changing but there is still some way to go. Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club, indicates that whilst in 2010 at the beginning of the campaign to increase the percentage of women on boards to 30% by 2015, some chairmen saw the issue as "a women's issue", this has now completely changed. Our latest Market Tracker Trend Report: Women on boards - mid year update 2015 shows that there are now no all male boards in FTSE 100 companies and only 7.6% of FTSE 250 companies (19 companies).

Our own analysis of the latest mid-year statistics indicates that "whilst FTSE 350 companies are continuing to improve gender balance on their boards, the figures showing low levels of appointments of women to executive director roles should set alarm bells ringing" (Eleanor Kelly, Solicitor in the LexisPSL Corporate team).

Diversity in law firm leadership

Law firm leadership, whilst improving, still also has a way to go. Statistics from 2014 show that only 22% of partners in the UK's largest law firms were female. Hannah Lynn, solicitor in the Employment team at Stewarts Law, in a guest post for this blog on International Women's Day 2015, says that promoting gender equality is business critical:

"Whilst some law firms have implemented gender targets and diversity programs to try to boost the number of female lawyers at the top, the concern is that such policies are too piecemeal and reactive rather than proactive."

Funke Abimbola, managing counsel for Roche Products Limited and diversity champion, in another guest post for this blog, analysing the Law Society's Annual Statistics Report, reflected that 

"while women are attracted to the legal profession at entry-level in droves and account for almost half of solicitors with practising certificates, retaining women solicitors and progressing to the more senior levels of the profession remains a challenge".

The gender pay gap is also still an issue in law firms, even accounting for differences in pay between locations or occupational segregation (where women choose to work in areas that are less well paid).

Rachel Dineley, Partner at DAC Beachcroft LLP, speaking at the Law Society's seminar on gender equality issues in the legal profession indicated that in March 2014, presenting statistics from the Law Society, announced that the 2013 gender pay gap for solicitors was, on average, 30% for private practice, a small increase from the previous year, and 27.8% for in-house.

Diversity in the Judiciary

The Lord Chief Justice says the judiciary is "long on delivery but not short on aspiration" as he set out plans to diversify the judiciary whilst continuing to attract the best talent. Speaking to the Citymothers and Cityfathers networking group at an event in June, he reflected on the fact that the judiciary has not yet caught up with the changes in the profession, particularly at High Court level and above. Echoing Baroness Hale's comments from as far back as 2009 when asked by the then Lord Chancellor to look at judicial diversity, he pointed out unless the pool from which judges are chosen widens, the available talent will narrow. He hopes that in future the judiciary will be easier to join, offer more flexible opportunities and be more representative of the legal profession.

Steps are being taken both by the judiciary itself, having set up the Judicial Diversity Committee, as well as external factors such as projects to modernise the courts; more civil justice is to be done online which will offer more work opportunities outside of the traditional model of working from a court building.

The committee, of which he is chair, is ensuring that the following is among the initiatives being addressed:

  • Taking advantage of changes to the law which now allow direct access for Deputy High Court judges and introducing a scheme for those with non-traditional judicial backgrounds (e.g. city partners, general counsel, academic lawyers etc) to gain experience, and introducing a level playing field including a competition for those with no judicial experience, to ensure applicants can all be selected on merit.
  • Putting in place mentoring schemes, specifically targeting women and BME groups
  • Promoting the advantages of a judicial career change (more flexibility; no clients!) at two key potential career change times, which may be of particular benefit in increasing female applicants - mid 30s (i.e those who potentially might have traditionally taken a career break for a family) and early 50s (i.e. those interested in a high pressure and intellectually demanding role but wish to seek a different angle of work)
  • Changing the entrance barriers to make it easier to become a Deputy District Judge and removing some of the court experience currently required to happen in addition to work at the High Court level which makes it easier for city solicitors to make the move into the judiciary.

Diversity in arbitration

Similar problems and steps have been identified in the arbitration community. Julianne Hughes-Jennett, partner, and Rashida Abdulai, senior associate, at Hogan Lovells’ international arbitration and litigation practices report that

"The AAA Diversity Committee is tasked with ‘promoting the inclusion of those individuals who historically have been excluded from meaningful and active participation in the alternative dispute resolution field’.

The chair of this committee, Sasha Carobone, suggests arbitrators from underrepresented groups make effective use of mentorship, pro bono (to gain experience) and networking (to increase exposure). When advising clients, lawyers can also actively consider and suggest more diverse candidates for appointment, and refrain from relying exclusively on the same small pool of existing appointees."

Women on boards - FTSE 350 companies

Lexis®PSL Corporate finds that between the publications of the annual Davies review in March 2015 and 10 June 2015, overall the FTSE 350 has seen a continued rise in representation of women on UK boards.  However, Eleanor Kelly, Solicitor in the LexisPSL Corporate team expresses her concerns "that companies may have been paying lip service to the Davies recommendations by appointing women to part-time non-executive roles for the purpose of achieving nominal targets by 2015. True gender diversity won’t be achieved unless and until more women are involved in making the key day-to-day business decisions. Hopefully the Davies Steering Group will address this issue in their end of 2015 report and set some targets to help to get more women into executive director roles at FTSE 350 companies."

Download free the full report here [PDF]

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