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On 6 March 2015, in celebration of International Women’s Day 2015, the Law Society hosted a seminar on gender equality issues in the legal profession. The same day, the German government passed a law imposing mandatory quotas for women on non-executive boards of large companies; a timely reminder that gender balance in the workplace is a topical issue for countries and companies world-wide, across many business sectors, not just the legal profession.
The Law Society seminar aimed to revisit recommendations from the 2012 International Women in Law Summit Legacy Report and, in doing so, focussed on three key issues through stimulating panel discussions: quotas versus targets; the gender pay gap; and the role clients can play in supporting and driving greater gender diversity in law firms.
Statistics show that there are a greater number of women entering into the legal profession than men. In 2013, 60.9% of new admissions to the roll were women. However, despite more than a decade of a range of diversity initiatives in the profession, there is still a disparity between the number of women and men in senior positions. Despite women accounting for approximately 48% of current practising certificate holders, in 2014 only 22% of partners in the UK’s largest 100 firms were female. These figures suggest that the disparity is caused by retention and promotion, rather than access to the profession. In February 2015, business advisers, Skarbek Associates, released a White Paper noting that one obstacle to the career development of female solicitors is the traditional business model of hourly billing, which defines and rewards value.
Promoting gender equality is an important initiative for many businesses. Speaking about PwC’s own diversity program and initiatives to support women wanting to progress their careers, Kevin Ellis, Managing Partner of PwC UK and keynote speaker, said that promoting gender equality was “absolutely business critical”.
It has been recognised that a gender balanced workforce can have commercial benefits. In the ‘Women on Boards Review Annual Report 2014’, Lord Davies wrote “Gender balance makes good business sense….The under-representation of women in senior roles and at board level impacts the performance, governance and reputation of companies, as they fail to attract and retain the widest possible range of talent”.
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. Cathe
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Hannah has extensive experience dealing with cases involving whistleblowing, discrimination, team moves, independent workplace investigations and senior-level appointments and departures. She has particular expertise in handling high-value, complex Employment Tribunal and High Court litigation.
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