The advancement of women in the profession is far too slow
Partner Jules Quinn and trainee Elysia-Elena Stellakis identify key ingredients for greater law firm gender diversity
Fresh from analysing the latest offical UK legal profession demographics – and reporting 'sluggish progress' for women in an article for GLP – Jules Quinn, an employment partner at King & Spalding's London office, and trainee Elysia-Elena Stellakis, draw on their own experiences to offer personal perspectives on the women in law debate.
This year is my 20th anniversary of becoming partner. I had my daughter before I became a partner and my son after it. I have always worked full-time but I am lucky enough to have worked with colleagues and clients who put quality over presenteeism and gave me flexibility when I needed it.
The advancement of women in the profession is far too slow and we cannot just wait for evolution to resolve this imbalance. My personal view is that we need to look at sharper tools to do the job – always considering at least one woman in a slate of partnership candidates and setting clear goals. And a cogent and intentional plan to get there.
The most recent data also doesn’t give a clear picture on where the real power lies: how many of these women partners are equity partners? How many are managing or senior partners? Training and leadership or professional skills training is vital, even for our most senior women.
There is no doubt that law firms have the tools to retain their talent: flexible remote working, transparency of pay systems, origination credits applied fairly and, most importantly, mentoring and sponsoring.
The good news is that opportunities are becoming more accessible so encouraging female lawyers to progress up the career path, with the support of partners (male and female), can make a genuine difference.
I have always been of the view that men and women should be entitled to equal opportunities under a genuine meritocracy. It was about talent, not ticking boxes or lowering expectations.
In fact, I wrote an article while on work experience stint at the Telegraph women’s desk back in 2013 in which I said the idea of quotas for women at the top of businesses was counteractive because it goes against the essence of a meritocracy.
That statement remains broadly true but now, nearly eight years later, my gut belief is no longer a binary quotas vs meritocracy equation. Meritocracy is only as good as the aspiration (and resilience) that people need to pursue their passions.
These are complex issues and there is a risk of over-simplifying the problems as well as the potential solutions. On the one hand, we can say there are not enough women at the top of businesses. On the other, the UK’s highest-paid business boss is a woman (Bet365’s chief executive, Denise Coates, earned a total package of £469m last year).
One thing we can agree on is that even a little inspiration can go a long way. As I start to work my way up the ladder, it certainly is the individuals at the top who have sparked my wish to keep developing and keep climbing. Without witnessing women at the top, this would be a very daunting experience.
I see how crucial it is to have role models, both male and female, taking senior positions and leading teams. It has always been important to me to have motivating and inspiring figures in my life and as I embark on my career in law. It is vital to not only learn from them professionally, but also look up to personally.
I believe that organisations are positively embracing the need for diversity and with more and more women entering the workplace, retention should be the prime focus to ensure that women not only enter, but make it to the senior positions, where they are needed the most.