Diversity tables put policies above numbers
3 January 2011 | By Luke McLeod-Roberts
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The Black Solicitors Network’s fifth Diversity League Table (DLT) reveals considerable differences between the larger City firms and their smaller regional and niche counterparts in terms of diversity profiles.
Last year trade union firm Thompsons Solicitors came first in the Most Diverse Firm table, followed by Wedlake Bell and Russell Jones & Walker (RJW). But this year Linklaters took the top spot, while silver and bronze went to Baker & McKenzie and Norton Rose.
Thompsons, Wedlake Bell and RJW did not make it into the top 10 at all this year. Thompsons’ omission is explained by its decision not to participate, but the absence of the other two firms reflects a change in methodology.
As the statistics reveal, 24 per cent of Linklaters’ UK partners are women. This is in line with the national average, but less than RJW, where 28 per cent of partners are female.
But this year’s survey gives weighting to the existence of diversity monitoring; leadership and internal policy; public-facing statements; employee networks and diversity training; and recruitment, promotion and retention.
Among other initiatives, Linklaters monitors the composition of all of its staff - including the social backgrounds of its graduate recruits - so that it knows where the gaps lie. It is also engaged in outreach work to widen its recruitment net, has several well-structured employee affinity networks and is a signatory of the Law Society Diversity and Inclusion Charter.
So, does the dominance of the largest firms in this year’s top 10 suggest that some areas of policy and practice rely on having bundles of cash?
“Financial investment is certainly useful in improving the diversity of an organisation, but a lot can be achieved by embedding diversity within existing HR policies and practices,” says Linklaters HR manager Felix Hebblethwaite. “Implementing diversity training across an entire firm, for example, would be expensive but you don’t need to do it every year.”
The same could be said on the link between having successful employee networks and large workforces. Networks are easier to get off the ground when there is a critical mass of staff to get behind them. However, cross-firm networks, such as the InterLaw Diversity Forum and the Black Solicitors Network, can provide support for employees from smaller organisations.
When demographics alone are taken into account, on the whole the smaller firms fare better.
At 48.57 per cent, Weightmans has the highest proportion of female partners among all the firms surveyed. Managing partner Patrick Gaul puts this down to the firm’s
work-life balance ethos.
“We encourage people to have a life outside their careers and we have a decent flexible working practice,” he says. “There’s now a majority of women entering the profession. If you treat people equally then you should have a preponderance of female partners. It’s important both morally and for business that you have a proper representation of society in the organisation. A male-dominated firm isn’t healthy or sustainable.”
One of these Weightmans partners is Elaine Chapman, who is head of the London large loss and technical claims team.
Her experience is a good example of the firm’s non-elitist requirements. Chapman did not go to university, but started at the firm as a legal executive, attending night school.
Last year she was promoted into the equity.
Nevertheless, while the firm has a good proportion of women in the overall partnership, Chapman is one of just three women in the equity partnership, with females accounting for just 10 per cent of the equity in total.
“I think the [proportion of women in the] equity will improve,” says Gaul. “It’s a question of time. We’ve got some good women working through the ranks.”
Despite its female-friendly partnership, Weightmans fares about average in the overall table, coming 22nd out of 48 firms, while Shearman & Sterling, which has the second-highest declaration for LGB staff at 4 per cent, comes bottom. While the latter does well on monitoring, it has been rated poorly on external-facing statements and policies, employee networks and diversity training, and recruitment, retention and promotion.
Shearman puts this down to the survey reflecting policy and practice in its London office rather than its New York headquarters.
“The survey’s based on London. Some of the statistics belie the fact of what’s going on here,” says HR manager Lois Gordon. “We have a head of diversity based in New York, not London - we don’t have the critical mass of New York. I don’t think we’re behind the curve [on policy].”
On the whole US firms tend to score well on demographics. But this is also as a result of their relatively small City offices. When it comes to the presence of minority ethnic partners, top of the list is O’Melveny & Myers with 25 per cent. An impressive statistic - but the firm has only 10 partners in London.
Similarly, Weil Gotshal & Manges, which comes second with 14 per cent minority ethnic partners, has only 22 partners in London, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, which comes third with 13 per cent, has just 16 partners in the City.
The DLT also reflects the difficulties inherent in monitoring social indicators such as disability, faith and sexual orientation, which are not always immediately visible. Just under 4 per
cent of Dewey & LeBoeuf employees consider themselves LGB, but the sexuality of a further 75 per cent is unknown.
While no firm would want to force their employees to reveal this information, more could be done to communicate to staff about how the data will be used and to assure them that it will not hinder their career development in any way.
The DLT research was carried out with 48 firms, drawn from the largest 150 UK firms and 30 top international and US firms based in the City, together with an additional 16 chambers. Participants had to pay a charge to cover the costs of the survey