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Why we should be advancing diversity though sponsorship and mentoring

Posted by: Clare Butler 09/01/17
It’s fair to say that there is a fairly ubiquitous understanding of the need for diversity at senior levels throughout international legal circles. However all too often firms rely on quotas, as opposed to fostering real cultural change, and without working to address the underlying issues any progress made in terms of diversity will undoubtedly be short lived.

Women graduate from law degrees in equal, if not greater, numbers than men in a number of leading legal hotspots across the globe. Yet, troublingly, female representation in the profession, particularly at partner level, remains low. In fact, according to the most recent Diversity & Flexibility Alliance’s New Partner Report, a yearly study of more than 100 of the US’ largest law firms, only 37.3 percent of attorneys promoted to partnership in 2016 were women.

While most law firms repeatedly commit to setting quotas in order to increase diversity throughout their practices, far fewer are committing to facilitating real cultural change by providing effective mentoring and sponsorship programmes. To really understand the benefit of a diverse workforce, and gain a competitive edge over their industry peers, law firms need to explore new ways to attract and retain the top female legal talent.

Many firms have introduced formal mentoring programs that assign summer associates and new attorneys with both associate and partner mentors. However few are forging such relationships at more senior levels, where mentoring is arguably more crucial. Even less are embracing the idea of sponsorship, which offers mentoring, as well as reputational investment.

The nature of sponsorship means senior professionals become more personally invested in the success and long term career goals of their mentee, and are more likely to use their own influence within a firm to help pull them up. Attorneys who receive thoughtful coaching, close attention and strong support from their sponsors are far more likely to continue along the partnership track and contribute more and at higher levels within the firm.

Law firms can no longer rely on passive goal setting if they want to increase diversity at their firm, they need to establish more innovative and personal approaches to retain talented female legal minds.

Tagged In: Women in Law
Recent Comments
Great perspective and advice. Working in house and in the tech industry, I have experienced similar challenges.
Shari, 10 January 2017
Thanks, Shari. Know you are not alone! You are welcome to get in touch with me or one of my consultants for any career advice should you wish.
Clare Butler, 11 January 2017
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