Women in law: The best London firms for female employees

Under the Equality Act 2010, companies with more than 250 employees were required to publish data on their gender pay gap. The first reports became due in April 2018.

In the first reporting period, the results in the legal profession were striking. What’s more, some UK law firms received criticism for obscuring the results by not including the ratio of female to male partners in the data.

Befittingly, 2019 marks the celebration of a centenary of women in the legal profession, and, in only the second season of gender pay gap reporting, there were thankfully some improvements across the board.

The Magic Circle’s 2019 results:
Slaughter and May published its first partner-level report in March 2019 and revealed that male partners earn on average 8.9% more than their female counterparts. In terms of total earnings, women at Slaughters make up 71% of the lowest quartile and 36.9% of the highest quartile.
• Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s median pay gap improved from 13.3% to 6.2% in 2019, a reduction in disparity of 7.1%.
• At Clifford Chance the male median pay is 26% more than that of female colleagues
• Allen & Overy’s gender pay report revealed an 18% difference between male and female remuneration packages.

The Law Society of England and Wales carried out the largest international survey of women in law to mark International Women’s Day (this year? insert date) and found that 91% of respondents felt that flexible working was critical to improving diversity. Unconscious bias was considered the main barrier to career progression for women, but only 11% of law firms offer any sort of training to tackle this issue. Perhaps more worryingly, only 16% of the 7,781 respondents could see any evidence of their firm actively taking steps to address the gender pay gap.

On a more positive note, examples of firms who are proactive in challenging unconscious bias include:
• Freshfields commiting to having 30% female candidates for partner promotion.
• Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner met its 2018 target of having a 30% female UK-wide partnership, and this year 57% of newly-hired partners were female.
CMS positively leads the way in terms of promoting gender inclusivity with in-house unconscious bias training, a market-leading maternity scheme and a shared parental leave programme.
• Eversheds Sutherland has a 27% female partnership and hopes to reach 30% by 2021.
• Women make up 30% of the executive committee at Allen & Overy.

The latest Lex 100 survey also shed light on some law firms’ impressive commitments to gender equality. Current trainees at RPC consider the firm ‘inclusive and open-minded’ in offering ‘flexible working for parents of either gender’. At Forsters there are ‘lots of amazing female role models’ with new recruits amazed at the percentage of women in high positions. Indeed, managing partner Paul Roberts and senior partner Smita Edwards revealed that ‘over 44% of our partners and 63% of our associates are women, we have ten female partners in leadership positions and women head four of our seven business service groups’, which is better than most comparable London firms’ results.

Moreover, Simmons & Simmons was praised by new recruits for its ‘excellent LGBT and gender balance initiatives’ and Hodge Jones & Allen has impressively introduced a blind recruitment process for this year’s training contract application process. Trainees also commented on ‘the inclusivity of women’ and were pleased to work under two female heads of department; the firm’s partnership is 64% female, compared to 36% male. CMS also has an impressive ‘female representation in leadership’ which was shown in this year’s promotion rounds. Women accounted for 76% of all CMS promotions in the UK, and 47% globally, demonstrating the firm’s commitment to progressing female talent.

The Times Top 50 Employers for women includes the following law firms in its rankings:
Addleshaw Goddard LLP
Allen & Overy
Eversheds Sutherland LLP
Hogan Lovells International LLP
• Linklaters
Norton Rose Fulbright
• Pinsent Masons
Simmons & Simmons

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