On 29 March 2021, AWLA held a panel event with representatives of seven law firms, to talk about what initiatives help ensure that women are promoted or appointed to partnership.
The genesis of this event was a series of questions we sent to a range of firms with offices in Auckland, asking them about their promotion of women to partnership. We invited the firms to send us their new partner numbers from the last five years, and the gender breakdown of these. This was designed to recognise that it will take time for partnership numbers to shift, but that if firms are actively addressing this issue this should be reflected in their recent promotion numbers. We also asked firms about the gender breakdown of salary partners (if they have any).
The results of this work and more information about our questions can be seen here – https://awla.org.nz/promotion-of-women/.
We also invited the firms to give us more information on what they were doing to try to comply with their obligations under the Gender Equality Charter, if they were signatories to it. The seven firms represented on our panel were those who engaged with this question – Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, Dentons Kensington Sawn, Hesketh Henry, Meredith Connell, Gilbert Walker, Duncan Cotterill and Bell Gully.
We are grateful to our panellists for giving up their time to be part of this event. We have received excellent feedback on the event and the insights the panellists shared, and so we wanted to share some of these here, so more people can consider them.
- Getting more women into partnership:
- Three of the firms have set targets for the gender split of their partnership – one for 50% women by 2023, and two have opted for a target of a 40-40-20 split (40% men, 40% women and a 20% mix).
- Women in some workplaces are receiving sponsorship and not just mentorship – someone (often a male ally) sitting at the partnership table and actively supporting that senior woman into partnership, rather than cheering or listening from the sidelines.
- Men need to be part of the conversation – otherwise it becomes an echo chamber.
- Two of the firms have salary partners – and this can be a tool to help aspiring partners build their business, while minimising their risk. Both the firms with salary partners try to ensure that this is not a long term holding position, so that salary partners become equity partners within a few years.
- Many firms are doing unconscious bias training for all partners and staff members, and find this to be a helpful tool.
- One firm has amended its partnership deed to require gender balance on the board. The idea behind this is that the board should look like what the firm is aspiring to. The presence of more women around the partnership (and board) table, can have a snowball effect, making further progress easier.
- One firm has phased out single-interviewer, successive interviews in favour of one, panel interview. Research suggests less risk of unconscious bias of one interviewer filtering out a candidate at an early stage, as the hope is that any unconscious bias will be moderated/called out by other interviewers.
- Parental leave
- One firm hires a return-to-work coach following parental leave to help with the re-entry to work.
- Keep in touch with parents while they are away, invite them to social events.
- Consider how someone’s work and client relationships are going to be looked after while they’re away – and returned to them when they’re back. Don’t be afraid to have these conversations.
- Many of the firms had promoted someone to partnership while on parental leave, or had partners take parental leave.
- Flexible or part-time work and partnership
- Several of the firms have partners on less than full times hours.
- For every person, flexible working might look different – what each person needs for work to fit in with their life looks different, but flexibility helps with that.
- Remote working is a different conversation to flexible working. It is up to partners to lead from the top and model to employees that this is an acceptable thing to do.
- Have the conversations about what you need, even in relation to topics that can might seem controversial or difficult. People want different things, and those things can change, and the only way for firms to support that is for their employees to openly discuss it.
- It is helpful for firms to front and encourage discussions around short, medium and long term career goals; have upfront discussions about someone’s aims, so you can work together to make a plan to achieve them.
- Recognise what you are signing up for as a business owner. The realities of the nature of the industry, and of client-servicing generally, often means being online at night.
- Be open with clients about work arrangements – clients respect that, and are supportive of it.
- Where people go to 4 days a week (and 80% pay), it can be challenging to work out fair remuneration. Eg if that individual works additional hours (and an extra day) should they be compensated even if a full time individual working weekends would not be compensated for those weekends?
- Have the conversation
- Women are still not putting their hands up for partnership, but often need to be shoulder-tapped or actively encouraged to apply.
- Firms need to be conscious of the “merit” argument for a successful application to partnership – sometimes what firms still see as a “good” candidate is what looks like “me”.
- Be vocal that you are ambitious for partnership – don’t be afraid to speak about your ambitions . Conversation is: I want to do [x] arrangement re family commitments at this point in my life but I also want to be a partner in [x] years. How can we make this happen?