A far cry from the legal landscape of two decades ago, the number of women studying law and embarking on successful legal careers has risen to such a level that in many regions female law students now outnumber their male counterparts.
However, a trend of female legal talent gravitating towards in-house roles, over positions in private firms is emerging across Asia and the Middle East. This is according to a new report from In-House Community which suggests that women are increasingly opting for in-house roles as they find it easier to ascend to senior position than they do in private practice. Despite this, however, they continue to be outnumbered by their male counterparts, and this is a subject I’ve come across repeatedly at our Women in Law events.
The above study was compiled from 2,600 interviews conducted by In-House Community across 12 jurisdictions ranging from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Japan. In Singapore 43.8 per cent of in-house lawyers were women, and of those at the head of their in-house legal divisions, 42.4 per cent were female. Despite still being outnumbered by males, females made up a significantly larger proportion of in house legal teams than private practices.
What stood out to me as an interesting observation by Yvette Tan, Head of Development at In-House Community, was that the in-house profession is relatively new across Asia - meaning that “in-house lawyers can aspire to top positions” and that female lawyers remain “hopeful that family responsibilities and gender are less likely to be a barrier to advancement based on merit.” I can’t help noticing this in my day-to-day business in the region and see this as a symbol of positive change. The ever-growing ex-pat community only helps add to this as people want to have the same benefits they would back home, and international companies have little choice but to listen if they want to retain top talent.
While the greater proportion of women in-house will undoubtedly start to increase diversity and create a more accepting culture, which is likely to provide more opportunities for young female legal professionals, more needs to be done across the board to improve representation in private practices, not just in Singapore but globally as we’re seeing a clear rationale for the benefit, as per our recent article on diversity in London.