Where are the women?

Our Corporate Partner Alys Carlton discusses gender equality after the recent report released by The Equality and Human Rights Commission.

I took part in a panel event hosted by The Law Society Wales to mark International Women’s Day. The event was called “I want her job!”, and I was one of three panellists, all female lawyers, from different parts of the profession. Joining me on the panel were Nicola Williams, General Counsel of Dwr Cymru and Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones, Managing Partner of Agri Advisor. The session was chaired by Carolyn Kirby – a judge, Chairman of the Mental Health Review Tribunal in Wales, and the first woman to be elected President of the Law Society of England and Wales (2002-2003).

It was great to be surrounded by such interesting and inspirational women, and I’m not just referring to my fellow speakers. As Carolyn Kirby tweeted last night: “Brilliant audience, the future of the profession #safehands”.

I have blogged previously on gender equality and was therefore keen to understand – how does the legal profession actually fare in this regard? Earlier this week, the Law Society issued a press release which presented some interesting statistics.

Around a third of law firms in England and Wales in 2015 were majority-owned by women, compared to a national estimate of women-owned SMEs of 21%. In addition, women now make up 48% of solicitors. So far, so good.

However, if you delve more deeply, it is clear that a large proportion of women in family law and at entry level to the profession skew these statistics. By contrast, women make up fewer than 29% of law firm partners.

The political world paints a similar picture. Three out of the five mainstream UK political parties are led by women, and of course we have a female prime minister. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently published a report entitled “Who runs Wales?”. Since they last reported, there has been an increase in the proportion of women in the Welsh Government Cabinet, and the proportion of MPs from Wales who are women increased at the 2015 election.

But again, start digging and the position is all too familiar. According to the EHRC’s report, only 9% of our local council leaders are female, and only 6% of chief executives or equivalent of the top 100 businesses in Wales are women. I can’t have been the only person who was struck by the gender (not to mentioned racial) imbalance in the photo taken on St David’s Day of the 10 council leaders ratifying the Cardiff City Region Deal.

The president of the Law Society, Robert Bourn, says that they encourage law firms “to adopt more flexible working practices and to put in place policies that support discrimination-free career progression”. This certainly helps redress the balance, but my own view is that men, and the demands women make of men outside the workplace, have a huge part to play.

The Times of India published an article this week called “Who tucks children into bed? This International Women’s Day, let’s talk about men and how much care work they (don’t) do”. Until shared parental leave really takes off, and we see more men collecting their sick child from school, or attending a doctor’s surgery with their ailing parent, it will always be women rather than men who feel that family life encroaches too much on their careers for them to continue to keep their foot on the accelerator.

So how do we fare at Capital? We are surprisingly consistent with the Law Society’s statistics. In the past three years, women have made up 64% of our trainee solicitors; however, only 29% (no, I haven’t made that up!) of our partners are female. I must confess that my impression was that we bucked the trend, mainly because we have a female managing partner, and four out of our five business areas are led by a woman. I am however optimistic about the future, not least because the internal partner promotions we expect will take place over the next couple of years are likely to be mainly women.bench-accounting-49023