Women in law: how can we challenge the gender status quo this International Women’s Day?

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By Cornelius Grossmann – EY Global Law Leader


More women are entering the legal profession than men in the UK, yet so few are represented at the partner level. Astonishingly, according to the Law Society’s most recent annual statistics report, women currently make up around 57% of all trainee lawyers and associates, yet still only represent 24% of partners (dropping to 19% in Magic Circle firms). And in the US, women account for 45% of associates, but only 18% of equity partners according to the American Bar Association.

The legal profession – and indeed, the world – simply cannot afford to wait another 170 years for women to achieve gender parity in the workplace, as estimated by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Despite compelling evidence that a gender-balanced workforce is an economic imperative – and that companies that encourage advancement of women are overwhelmingly among the highest performing – the legal profession is a sobering example of the daunting journey ahead to reach parity.

These are unprecedented times in business and our clients’ needs are becoming increasingly complex. As the profession adapts to new legislation in response to huge technological advancements and disruption, the drive to acquire the very best talent across all industries and disciplines is more urgent than ever before. Consensus now holds that a failure to respond to gender inequality will only hamper that.

As part of the EY Women. Fast forward initiative, we are asking people and businesses alike to #BeBoldForChange at this year’s International Women’s Day, by taking strides toward a more equal, better working world. But what does that mean for our legal teams at EY?

Speculation around what bold action could look like for the legal profession typically involves debate around the merits of schemes such as quotas and targets to address gender inequality among traditional law firms.

While that debate continues, as one of the biggest recruiters of lawyers among global professional services firms, we believe tangible cultural change is the most impactful way to make a difference now. Actively promoting women into leadership roles; establishing mentorship programs; creating a culture that champions diversity; and supporting women at all levels to create a pipeline of talent are all part of our organization-wide goal to take bold action for change day-to-day.

Now with around 2,000 lawyers in 75 jurisdictions, part of our ethos across member firms is to engender flexible, inclusive working. In doing so, we can actively build more diverse teams and encourage those around us to do the same. This, we believe, is one of the key drivers behind our continued success and growth in the market, and helps us to attract high-quality talent from large global law firms.

The legal profession still has a long way to go in aspiring to reach gender parity. If we challenge the status quo by placing diversity and inclusiveness at the heart of our recruitment drive and culture, we will go a long way to support that ambition.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.