Women on top

One of the biggest stories last week was the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) saying that the number of women in power and influence had dropped since its last survey five years ago.

This week were all talking aboutwomen on top

The EHRC singled out the judiciary for criticism, but it didnt survey the UKs top commercial law firms or chambers. So we at The Lawyer thought we’d do their work for them.

The bar does okay just about. As we revealed last month, the ratio of male to female tenants has remained steady at 3:1 for the past three years. No wonder the EHRC has predicted that the bench wont change its mix anytime soon.

Back in March this year TheLawyer.com began a rolling blog on partnership promotions at the top UK law firms. A week into the process, when compiling the running total for the print edition, we had already noticed that women were suddenly becoming more visible in the promotions rounds. At Herbert Smith a third of its new partners were women, while at Olswang it was nearly half.

This was no blip. The Lawyer’s lead story this week shows how that trend applies across the top 100 firms from The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report 2008. Nearly 20 per cent of all partners at the top 100 firms are now female. It would be even more interesting if we knew how many of these women have children, of course. In the professional workplace it tends not to be a gender gap, but a maternity gap.

However, we can intuit one thing: flexible working practices have helped. Most firms can point to one or two senior women who have taken advantage of such schemes. That in itself is a mark of how much the debate has changed since the 1990s, because such women who work flexibly have almost become trophies; some even get profiled on their firms websites.

Most heartening of all, women are doing better than ever at getting into the equity and this at a time when the number of equity partners across the top 100 law firms has actually dropped. Now, that’s another story