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Posted by: Clare Butler 08/03/18


On Tuesday I attended a 30% Club  panel discussion on Building the Pipeline.  [I am now allowed to say that it was held at MI5 and we guests felt very special to be part of our own real life Spooks event!] During the panel discussion several points were highlighted and gender pay gap aside - which warrants its own blog - it was interesting to learn how different industry sectors are helping to build the pipeline of female talent.  We were told that starting as a male-only bastion in 1909, today at MI5 43% of the workforce are female.  We were also told that this wasn’t good enough and that there is a business imperative to get this number to parity.  I was impressed by their commitment to #press for progress.

In pressing for progress what does this mean for us at Laurence Simons?  I’ll come to our thoughts on this later. For now,  here are 3 Tips we offer to our clients on today’s International Women’s Day to help female lawyers and compliance professionals.

  1. KEEP TALENT IN THE WORKFORCE –  Lawyers who, after a planned career break to raise a family, return to work and find it challenging to keep a work/life balance and therefore leave their company.  What a loss!  How can returning laywers, who have missed out on a few years post qualification experience (PQE), still maintain a career trajectory that allows them to progress into board-level positions? We have seen at Laurence Simons in the past few years a greater emphasis on flexible working and long may this continue.  However we also suggest that we need to see employers – for both women and men – get creative on how talent can be kept in the workforce.  
  2. BE CLEAR ON DEVELOPMENT AND LEADERSHIP PLANS – Lawyers like clear and unambiguous goals. Ask them what they want and need to support them in their ambitions.  Listen.  Discuss. Decide. Support.  Repeat.
  3. MEASURE “STUFF” – This is the one that drives change and can allows us to #pressforprogress in a sustained way.  If you don’t know what you need to change, how can you create programmes which allow you to measure where you were and how far you have come?  It also allows those of you that are doing a great job of this to have it as a calling card for those professionals who are seeking a new role. [And stuff can mean anything and everything from your % split of gender to the number of non-returning female employees post maternity leave to the number of women on your board.]


And before we think that this a post written by a woman exclusively for women I want to focus on the role on men.  First, we need you.  Male champions, those who want to break down the barriers that still exist in preventing progress across the range of women’s (human?) issues are essential in helping move things forward.  It is essential that men feel as engaged and committed to this as we women do.  Those of us that have studied management theories know that Belbin suggests that the perfect team is made of 9 different roles.  We also know that by enriching teams with diversity it reduces groupthink and can create higher performing teams in the long-run.   Today I would ask all male leaders reading this to think about what their 9 different roles look like across their organisation?  Is it balanced?  Can implementing a small change  help women in their career advancement?

Finally, I asked my team for their thoughts and comments.  Here is an international selection:


I believe that leading global organisations and  law firms should have strategies in place to retain, promote and develop their women lawyers by promoting initiatives to address gender stereotypes, promote informal networks (e.g. women in law events)  of support and development and find ways to help lawyers balance work and family responsibilities. Lots of initiatives on diversity have taken place in the Benelux (especially in the Netherlands where it is quite common for women to work part time to balance family life), but there are still a lot of hurdles to take to actually make sure women can reach the top within an organisation/ law firm.


Although with a small participation compared to men, nowadays women already have a significant presence in legal market, assuming high in house positions and reaching partner level at important law firms. With a huge battle still ahead, women have been demonstrating, through technical and soft skills, that they are capable of assuming all the responsibility and challenges of the legal area without ‘ forgetting’ to look after their families, finding the balance between professional and personal life. #pressforprogress


From my perspective as a very junior professional/starter in this field, I immediately thought about a conversation I recently had with a young female lawyer who is specialized in international criminal law and human rights. She remarked that there is a paradox regarding gender in this part of the legal world - on the one hand, women are well represented in public interest organizations/institutions, while they are on the other hand confronted with sexism, harassment, and limited career options due to old boys' networks. She followed up by mentioning a Facebook group  to which only female lawyers/legal professionals in the NGO/public sector are admitted and in which members advertise vacancies within their organizations, often before they are advertised publicly (in addition to general posts about career advice and meet ups etc.).

I think it's therefore interesting that more senior professionals actively pass on these warnings regarding any issues others might encounter in relation to their gender (reflective of the #MeToo-movement) while also taking action by creating their own counter networks (mirroring the working of the aforementioned old boy's networks). I'm not sure how applicable this is to the corporate legal sector, but I think it's an interesting and proactive approach to closing any remaining gender gaps.


Overall my impression through interactions with women in law across Europe is that the legal profession is a good one to be in and where there is healthy female representation and, in-house at least, a generally meritocratic approach.  Though our specialisation in the life sciences, we can see that there is strong representation of bright, ambitious women in this particular field.  Nevertheless in Southern Europe, there is a prevailing issue of there being more women than men studying law, but a significantly higher percentage of men at Director/Partner level .  Some traditional industries can still be a little 'Old Boys Club', and gender inequality when it comes to career advancement seems to be more noticeable in law firms than in-house.


#pressforprogress- For women in Middle East, government is definitely pressing for progress in terms of female empowerment. For example, Saudi Arabia is allowing women to drive, also Saudi hosted its first marathon for women recently.  In the UAE women have been empowered to occupy top leadership roles in the government and private sector. "Women are the sisters of men, and there is no difference between them, as they are partners in the nation’s advancement and prosperity," Sheikh Zayed always said.  In 2015, among top 3 Powerful Arab women in the world, the number 2 spot was occupied by the lawyer- Amal Clooney.


It is fantastic, reassuring and inspiring to acknowledge women and to set aside Thursday 8th March to celebrate women's achievements. Success comes in many guises and over the last two decades in legal recruitment the value and contribution women bring to the legal and compliance recruitment landscape is tangible. Personally, across mainland Europe we are working with more senior legal hiring managers who are women, especially true in life sciences, than say 5 years ago.  What this shows is that whilst there are still many bridges to cross, perceptions to shatter and myths to explode, we are making small and meaningful steps towards achieving full gender equality for women. And what we are striving for is a basic human need, most eloquently reinforced by Susan Brownell Anthony (a women's right activist) 'Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less' "



A great deal of progress has been achieved in promoting and supporting women at all levels in the legal job market. Women's rights to balance a career with family commitments mean that employers are far more flexible about working conditions and flexible solutions to retain the best talent. Statistics particularly at the more senior level still indicate that there is some way to go, but the changes witnessed over the last 20 years are palpable.

Thank you for reading this.  You can see we feel passionately at Laurence Simons in advancing the gender and diversity agenda.  We can't do this alone though.  We need your help to help us ensure that we are finding the best talent we can, in all corners of the globe. Thank you. 

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