Can women really rise to the top in big law firms?
Looking at some research into non-legal directors in top-100 law firms yesterday, I was shocked by the gender split at big firms for 'support' roles such as finance, IT and HR director.
'Just 12% of top-100 law firm FDs are female, and only 15% of IT directors are female,' says the research, while 'only one top-100 law firm has women across the board', which is Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. Good on them, I say – pathfinding stuff, that.
Apparently these numbers make it more likely to find a woman running a national newspaper than a law firm finance department. It's not like women can't do maths – I only have to look at my own family to prove that point. Hardly cold, hard statistical work needed there. I hope it's obvious that I think that, regardless of the role, people should land a job based on their skills, not their ability to have children.
The general 'argument' we hear when talking about the huge drop-out rate of women at the top level of management as age increases – in any business sector – is that women, because they have children, take time out of work just when men are playing hard for seniority. Thus, they never attain top roles in large numbers.
If you looked at just finance and IT director roles in law, you'd think that argument was correct. So why, then, are 66% of HR directors in top law firms women? Is someone dusting them with magic powder? Do they bring children in and keep them in their desk drawers?
Obviously not – the fact that HR directors are, in the majority, women is not just because in the past more women saw HR as an 'open' career path. It's because, to me, law firms and lots of other businesses 'feel' better about having women at the top of HR than they do IT or finance.
It's not hard to find a solicitor analogy here – if you're a woman solicitor, how would you feel to find out that, if you wanted a senior role in a top-100 firm, you'd have roughly a one in 12 or one in 15 chance of succeeding? Sounds like the 1970s to me.