Project 28-40 Sector Insight: Legal

Executive Summary / Introduction

If you are serious about change, you as Partners and senior leaders need to take the lead on women’s progression, moving this from a diversity initiative to a core business priority.

Create a truly agile organisation, with women and men able to work in a way that makes them productive and engaged.

There’s a real issue with private practice, and top firms are particularly challenging for women. I believe the reason is there’s an inherently male culture in these sorts of firms, where the sacrifices that you are expected to make to progress - and the whole chargeable hours structure that rewards putting in the long hours - means that long hours are rewarded.

- Focus Group Participant

Demonstrate visible leadership in tackling bullying, harassment and sexual harassment; send a clear message to all employees that poor behaviour should be called out and turn ‘zero tolerance’ policy into a reality. Provide informal methods of reporting.

Consult with women in your organisation about the changes they would like see to enable more women to succeed.

Implement more job share roles. We have seen this successfully piloted in management consultancies, with job sharing consultants managing one project and communicating this upfront with the client.

Ensure accountability at Partner level on meeting gender targets and set objectives for this, just as you have for billing.

Key Findings

  • Women in the legal sector are confident and very ambitious in their career and life outside work. 76% are confident in their ability to lead a team and 75% actively seek career development opportunities. 12% of women in the legal sector rate ‘getting to the top’ of their career as very important versus 10% of women overall, rendering the low representation of women at senior levels all the more concerning.

  • Women in the legal sector are more nervous (80%) about the impact having children will have on their careers than female respondents overall (75%). Two of the biggest barriers to women’s progression cited in this research were the ‘billable hours’ structure and the Partnership model, which impact the ability to work more flexibly.

  • Negative experiences associated with flexible working are felt even more strongly by women in the legal sector than by all Project 28-40 female respondents. These include resentment by colleagues, perceived low commitment to the organisation and less likelihood to progress in their careers (even if the input is similar).

  • The senior lifestyle is off-putting. Our data suggests that work at the senior level is perceived as unattractive; 63% of women in the legal sector agree they don’t want the lifestyle of senior leaders, versus 49% of women across all sectors. This is regardless of whether or not women want children.

  • In this sector 50% of female respondents say they have experienced bullying and harassment in the last three years; 11% have experienced sexual harassment. We found a despondency about reporting bullying and harassment; reasons given included protection afforded to Partners that generate significant revenue, not wanting to be labelled a ‘troublemaker’ and concern about victimisation for reporting.

  • It is alarming that only a third (34%) of women in the legal sector feel opportunities to advance are fair and equal between men and women, compared to 43% of women from other sectors. By providing more opportunities to work flexibly and for women to network with senior Partners, firms can begin to utilise all of their talent to the best of their ability.