01 Nov 2021

Diversity Lab seeks to help 200 women lawyers return to the profession by 2025

Latest incarnation of its OnRamp fellowship programme supported by more than 35 legal organisations

Caren Ulrich Stacy

Diversity Lab has launched the latest version of its OnRamp fellowship programme to help bring 200 women lawyers back into the legal profession by 2025 in a bid to reverse the number of women who have left the workforce in the last few years.

The US-based organisation has partnered with more than 35 law firms and legal departments to create the OnRamp 200 fellowship, which will connect those businesses with experienced women lawyers who have had a career hiatus and want to return to the profession but are finding it challenging due to gaps in their work history.

Law firms including Clifford Chance, Norton Rose Fulbright and Sidley Austin and corporates such as Amazon and Microsoft have signed up to the programme, which will offer one-year paid fellowships to successful candidates, providing a structured way back into the profession.

Caren Ulrich Stacy, founder of OnRamp Fellowship and Diversity Lab, said: “We hear from so many talented women lawyers who want to return and are not able to find a path back into law. Especially now, law firms and legal departments cannot afford to overlook this talented pool of candidates. We are introducing this bold goal to bring back 200 women lawyers in the next several years to create a measurable, transparent, and collaborative framework that will keep us all accountable and make real progress on diversifying the legal profession’s leadership ranks.”

The OnRamp 200 programme also seeks to address the need to increase the representation of women in legal leadership roles. While 50% of law firm associates are women, only around a fifth of equity partners are female—a proportion that has only increased by 5% over the past 15 years, according to NALP data. Women also only make up around a quarter of general counsel roles in Fortune 500 companies.

The initiative was launched in 2014, with the support of founding firms Cooley, Baker Botts and Hogan Lovells, as well as Sidley. Since then, more than 95 returning women lawyers have been placed into one-year paid fellowships. Almost nine in 10 of those candidates received full-time offers from legal organisations after the one-year programme.

Jennifer Hagle, co-chair of Sidley’s committee on the retention and promotion of women and its diversity and inclusion committee, said: “We have hired many talented OnRamp Fellows since its inception and are thrilled to join this effort to increase the collective impact. Working towards this industry goal is critical for building diverse leadership both within our organisation and in the legal profession.”

In September, Latham & Watkins, McDermott Will & Emery, Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom were among the 118 firms to complete Diversity Lab's Mansfield ceritification, a programme designed to grow the racial and ethnic diversity of those firm’s management committees so that at least 30% of candidates are from underrepresented groups.

And in May, the organisation launched the Move the Needle Fun Diversity Dividends Collective, an initiative geared towards simplifying the diversity data collection process for in-house teams and their law firms while also setting out goals to boost the diversity of external counsel teams. Gap, Hewlett-Packard and US Bank were among the 15 US corporate legal departments to sign up to the initiative. 

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