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Spot the female partner

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/04/15

This month, three months after her promotion, Milbank’s only London-based female partner handed in her resignation. And although the firm declined to comment on issues surrounding Laetitia Costa’s exit, the media attention attracted has brought gender issues within the sector back into the spotlight, including the problem of why there are so few female partners in law firms.

Since we wrote on this in February last year, when the percentage of female partners in the UK stood at 16%, it has been calculated that in 2015, although 62% of new recruits into law firms are women, less than a third of partners are female. So there has been a small amount of improvement, but where questions arise of true equality rather than just yearly progress, the figures speak for themselves.

Can we really continue to accept traditional explanations for this imbalance such as the pull of “outside family commitments”? Or are there deeper reasons for this lack of female talent at the top today? And although there are a huge number of capable and enthusiastic women entering the workforce, why are there so few able to obtain a partnership? Some US firms based in the UK are combatting accusations of bias or unfairness by implementing compulsory quotas to encourage the promotion of women. But it remains debatable whether true equality can even exist between pre-defined boundaries such as these.

One thing remains true: that gender diversity isn’t just a PR activity for firms, and it is necessary for every employee, from the bottom to the top, to believe in and actively encourage progressive attitudes and practices. And where there has been a huge advancement in the last twenty years of gender equality in the lower ranks of firms, it is important for individual organisations’ reputations to actively challenge accusations of a “glass ceiling” at work within their offices. Because if they don’t, they risk getting left behind as they lose out on the war for top female talent.