While many corporate law firms have made significant strides with diversity and inclusion initiatives, reaching hiring quotas represents only the tip of the iceberg.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a topic at the forefront of today’s corporate culture. For law firms like Norton Rose Fulbright, CMS Cameron McKenna, and Eversheds, D&I initiatives have recently taken the form of gender equality reform. According to Legal Cheek, these firms are endeavouring to increase gender diversity through partner promotion; 25-30% of the partners they’ve promoted in the last year have been women.
As a first step, this is huge – by committing themselves so publically to fostering a more equal workforce, these giants are paving the way for law firms everywhere. As far as holistic D&I reform goes, however, the fight is far from over.
What Firms are Doing Right
In what has long been a male-dominated field, it’s refreshing to see such lucrative and influential corporations making concerted efforts to balance the gender ratio. At Norton Rose Fulbright, which was voted one of the top employers for women in 2014 by the Times, the percentage of female partners has increased an unprecedented 24% this year. Not to be outdone, at CMS - which made the Times top employers for women in 2016 – 12 of their 31 new partners are women. At Eversheds, also included on the Times’ 2016 list, 11 out of its 26 new partners are women.
For women in the workplace, these statistics represent an enormous victory. Clearly understanding the value of D&I initiatives, these major law firms are paving the way for a much more equal future.
What’s Left to be Done
While what these firms have done so far is certainly commendable, this progress should be considered just the beginning of a holistic D&I strategy. While improving the gender ratio among partners may seem to address the issue, the root cause of this imbalance is buried deep in systemic and cultural biases that cannot be eradicated simply by setting gender quotas. In the tech industry, for example, although many more women are being hired, they are also quitting at an alarming rate: an estimated 50% of women working in science, engineering and technology will eventually quit their jobs - not out of personal preference, but due to a hostile workplace.
The truth is, D&I is a tricky issue to tackle, and requires more than surface-level fixes. So what can companies do to eradicate gender prejudice on a more holistic level? To begin with, organisations must evaluate sources of bias (both conscious and unconscious) that exist within their hiring process and work culture. Achieving this objective is easier said than done – no matter who is tasked with this noble pursuit, they are sure to be harboring a few ingrained biases of their own.
With data-driven programs, employers can objectively identify bias within the ranks of their respective organisations, and work to address the problem at its source. For firms like Norton Rose Fulbright, CMS, and Eversheds, this seems like a logical next step. Having already committed themselves to diversity initiatives, incorporating advanced bias elimination products such as Verify™ would allow these companies a more objective view into the issues they still need to tackle to truly become an inclusive workplace.