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08 March 2021

Freshfields sets out five-year global diversity and inclusion targets

Firm seeks to double proportion of women making partner from 19% last year to at least 40% by 2026

By Ben Edwards

International women's day illustration with profile of woman

Booga Frame; Shutterstock

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has become the latest top international firm to publish diversity targets and commitments as it seeks to refresh its approach to equality having appointed just four women partners last year out of 21 successful candidates.

By 2026 the firm is aiming to ensure at least 40% of new partners are women and 40% are men, with an additional 20% either men, women or non-binary. It also aims to have the same gender split in place for all key global leadership functions by 2023. 

The commitment – timed to coincide with International Women’s Day – means the firm, which recently voted in Georgia Dawson as its first woman senior partner, must more than double the intake of women from last year’s figure of 19%.

The headline target compares with magic circle rival Linklaters, which set itself the goal in 2014 of achieving 30% women representation among its partner intake by 2018 – a target it met in 2018 and 2019 but missed last year when the proportion dipped to 27%. Clifford Chance (CC), meanwhile, chose a different headline metric for diversity and inclusion targets it unveiled last summer when it said 40% of its global partners should be women by 2030.

In addition to its gender targets, Freshfields plans to double the number of black associates at the firm by 2026 and ensure that at least 5% of its global partnership identify as LGBTQ+. The firm added that it will also set location-specific race and ethnicity goals.

Dawson said: “Creating an inclusive environment at Freshfields, where diversity of thought is valued, and people feel they belong and can thrive is central to making us a stronger firm and delivering better outcomes for clients.”

She added: “This has been a focus for us for some time, and we are proud of the progress we have made, but we need to go much further. This includes tracking our progress against ambitious targets to increase the pace of change and embedding commitments across the firm so that everyone understands the role they play.”

Other steps the firm is taking to improve diversity and inclusion include launching its global talent programme Future Leaders for black and minority ethnic lawyers, requiring that its existing leadership makes measurable individual commitments to diversity and inclusion every year, and that there is greater recognition of contributions to diversity and inclusion during the appraisal process at all levels of the organisation.

Helen Ouseley, Freshfields’ global head of diversity and inclusion, said: “These commitments and targets should not be considered as the final destination, but as a means to accelerate real progress. To be successful we must continue to evolve our efforts to recognise the complex and intersectional nature of diversity, building diverse representation and inclusive teams, and take opportunities to bring together different groups, both within the firm and in partnership with external organisations to drive change.”

Earlier today, the University of Law published research which found that almost half of men automatically assume people working in the legal profession are male.

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