Diversity Deficit: HFW introduce new diversity strategy after missing gender targets

December 12, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

After failing to hit gender diversity targets for 2020, global law firm HFW has announced the launch of a new strategy, supported by a series of ambitious targets.

What does this mean?

Despite female law graduates now heavily outnumbering their male counterparts, there is still a huge discrepancy with the number of women in senior legal positions. As a result, HFW set out to reach their goal for women to account for 30% of partners at the firm by 2020. However, a firm-wide review of gender equality back in April 2019 showed that, while some progress had been made, evidenced by a 10% rise in female fixed-share partners since 2015, it was clear that the firm would not reach their desired goal. Managing partner, Jeremy Shebson, shared that a fresh approach was necessary in order to see significant, long-lasting change. Consequently, the firm is striving to ensure that by 1 April 2023, 40% of those internally and externally promoted to senior positions, such as Partner or Legal Director, will be women.

In February 2020, HFW released a report showing the 2018/19 diversity figures, revealing that women made up 92% of secretarial service employees and just 14% of partners. Meanwhile, men accounted for only 8% of the former and an astonishing 85% of the latter. The report also confirmed some of the initiatives in place to tackle this, including gender-balanced panels at marketing events, and parental transition coaching to offer support before, during, and after parental leave.

What's the big picture effect?

There is a clear trend among law firms where the more senior you go within the company, the fewer women you see. Some argue that this is down to unconscious (and in some cases conscious) bias, leading to resistance to women in leadership positions, so more opportunities are given to men. Additionally, women still tend to be the primary caregivers, resulting in some women’s careers being impacted by parenting responsibilities. Furthermore, senior roles may not fit around the demands of family life, so initiatives which encourage more flexible and part-time working higher up in the firm would be beneficial for those who are mothers.

In recent years, diversity in law has become an increasingly important priority, and research has shown that companies with more gender and ethnic diversity tend to perform better. It is now an expectation for firms to make an active effort to increase diversity and publicly sharing the diversity information of employees, increasing transparency. Firms are constantly in competition with each other, not only for the best clients, but also the top talent, and many potential employees are placing greater importance on how diverse and inclusive a firm is. This means that the ambitious targets and impressive strategies of one firm may cause others to consider their own initiatives, as they are all eager to demonstrate their commitment.

Many firms, including Clifford Chance and Dentons, have recently announced new equality strategies, and DWF has scrapped A-Level requirements for graduates, in an attempt to increase social mobility. Furthermore, many firms now use Rare Contextual Recruitment, to contextualise achievements and ensure talent is being attracted from all backgrounds.

There is no denying that the legal sector is taking huge strides in the right direction, however, there is still a way to go in tackling gender inequality among senior employees. A diverse workforce is a more experienced and knowledgeable one, so we hope to see more law firms following in HFW’s footsteps, and therefore more women in senior roles within law.

Report written by Lotanna Okara

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