Law firms featured highly in The Times’ list of the best gender-friendly law firms in the UK, with eight firms listed in the top 50 in the Times list but another survey indicates that there is wide skepticism about most law firms’ well-intentioned efforts to achieve gender equality.
The businesses and firms in The Times list have implemented various initiatives, such as flexible work practices, addressing the pay gap, and promoting caregiving responsibilities for all genders.
Business in the Community (BITC) collaborated with The Times to showcase the Top 50 list. The selection process involved three rounds of blind assessment.
In a significant step forward, BITC has introduced an additional evaluation of the real-life experiences of female employees within the considered organizations. The aim is to determine whether the gender equality measures outlined in their policies are being effectively implemented in practice.
All the organizations on the list are equally recognized and presented in alphabetical order. Each one has the opportunity to highlight the aspects of their gender equality efforts they are most proud of, in their own words.
The Leading Legal Firms
The law firms in the list include:
Allen & Overy;
Norton Rose Fulbright.
Mixed Sentiment Among Women Lawyers
However despite the good intentions of most law firms to work towards making legal workplaces a happier and more equitable place, a recent survey conducted by UK campaign group Next 100 Years sheds light on the perceptions of gender equality efforts among women lawyers.
Only a few short years ago the state of women in the law was described by the then Law Society President Christina Blacklaws as “deplorable”.
While the majority of respondents (67 percent) believe their firms genuinely aim to achieve gender equality, there remains skepticism regarding the effectiveness of the measures being implemented.
The survey involved more than 200 female legal professionals and was published recently and highlights that 45 percent of respondents feel the current measures in place to promote gender equality are not yielding the desired results.
On a positive note, most organizations now offer remote or hybrid working arrangements (88 percent) and part-time working options (68 percent), which were regarded as effective policies by those who participated in the survey. However, concerns were raised about work allocation for individuals availing of these opportunities, indicating a need for additional support.
Mentoring and coaching programs were available in less than half of the organizations (46 percent), but those who had access to such initiatives found them effective (79 percent). Surprisingly, only 32 percent of employers offered flexitime, even though 79 percent of respondents considered it effective.
The survey also revealed that just 20 percent of organizations provide additional support for maternity returners, despite 72 percent of respondents recognizing it as an effective service. Similarly, women’s networks are operated by 39 percent of organizations, and 69 percent of respondents found them effective.
Other measures endorsed by respondents, but offered by relatively few organizations, included financial support for childcare, gender-diverse client teams, and enhanced paternity leave.
Among the least popular measures adopted by law firms were external diversity pledges, with only 36 percent of respondents deeming them effective.
While hybrid and part-time working options were generally welcomed, the survey highlighted concerns about their potential impact on career advancement.
Only 54 percent of respondents were confident that work was allocated fairly between men and women, while 20 percent believed it was not. Furthermore, more than half of the respondents felt that part-time working negatively affected work allocations, and just over a third believed that working from home could hinder career growth.
Although women lawyers appreciate their firms’ commitment to gender equality, there is a clear call for more effective support and practical measures to bridge the gap and create equal opportunities for career progression.