Managing partners urge 40% female leader target

Topics: Equality and diversity

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  • Joanna Debiase

Law firm chiefs have called for females to account for 40% of business unit leaders within the next three years, on the day women’s rights are marked across the globe.

A survey conducted by the Managing Partners Forum shows that women hold 16% of chief executive posts, 27% of business unit leader roles and 46% of functional management leadership roles at professional services firms.


Surveyed firms’ three-year projections indicate that the female CEO ratio will increase to 28%, 36% of women will be business leaders and just over half of function management roles will be gender-neutral.

Two-thirds of the respondents were law firms.

Managing Partners Forum chair Michael Strong said the projections were ‘encouraging’.

But the forum has called on boards to raise the female business unit leaders target to 40%. It believes this will help firms to achieve a 30% target for female chief executives.

The findings were published the day after West London law firm IBB Solicitors announced that Joanna Debiase (pictured) will become managing partner from 1 May.

Debiase, who became a partner at the firm in 2009, is currently operations partner and compliance officer for legal practice.

Last month one of the biggest and oldest law firms in the Midlands, Wright Hassall, announced that it had appointed Sarah Perry as its first female managing partner.

The forum’s research shows that women are more likely to have primary responsibility for learning, HR, knowledge and communications.

Men will have primary responsibility for finance, technology, strategy and sales.

Responsibility for marketing, digital, business development, facilities, operations and risk functions tend to be gender-neutral.

Readers' comments (20)

  • A load of tosh, if they are good enough they get he job, they should not be given it just to push up numbers

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  • I don't think this is a load of tosh.

    Job roles within the sector often reflect the working requirements of men, not women. It would, however, be a load of tosh to think that men are inherently better than women at these roles..

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  • Oh not this again !! Please, change the record ....ZZZZzzzzzzz

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  • 'Job roles within the sector often reflect the working requirements of men, not women'. Actually, they don't. they reflect the requirements of clients who pay the wages and the often 24/7 business world they live in.

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  • It is too easy to say "Well if they're good enough then give them the job."

    The issue here isn't whether or not women are good enough, the issue that women who are good enough are not getting the opportunity to show they are good enough because of discrimination whether conscious or unconscious.

    As it stands the numbers suggest positive discrimination in favour of men. I suspect they are misleading because there are a whole host of reasons why there might be more men in such roles - generational, lifestyle choices and so on.

    I would love for there to be promotion on merit but for that to happen you need an objective assessment of performance and that ain't going to happen because numbers aren't the whole deal.

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  • I clearly have clairvoyant abilities, I knew when I read this article that many of the comments would be 'what tosh' and 'change the record' etc.

    Whenever there is an article from the Law Society about discrimination to women, LGBT people, black people, other minorities, there is a huge cry of 'PC madness' etc from the white, straight men who in the main choose to be anonymous.

    Those of you who write such pointless comments should do well to remember that women do earn less then men when doing the same roles, women are less likely to be in senior positions. Clearly you don't understand because you have never been overtly or impliedly discriminated against, so if you don't understand it, keep your tosh to yourselves.

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  • Women are the beneficiaries of positive discrimination and mandatory quotas, not men. In all of this, the client is being ignored. He, she or it wants someone who will carry out instructions promptly and timeously and be available when required, including across time zones.
    Anyone who is in any way concerned with work/life balance probably isn't fit for the client's purpose. Only you are interested in your children, your hobbies and your health; clients do not care. In her paper on Preference Theory, Dr Catherine Hakim pointed out that, inter alia, 4/7 of men prioritise work while only 1/7 of women do. And that's why, given the choice, clients prefer men as those with the necessary commitment

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  • I only wanted the best, simply the best. So I employed two males and eight females. Was I employing too many women? Was i doing something wrong?

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  • The lack of women in top roles has nothing to do with 'satisfying client needs' or whether the 'top person gets the job'. Equally painting the gender debate on rudimentary work/life balance arguments is out-dated.

    New structures in the market offering work/life integration will create a more level playing field as well as catering for a younger generation of lawyers who are more outcome focused. These structures still attend to client needs whilst creating a more engaged workforce.

    I agree that this profession can create greater demands on its work force but to revert to type and dismiss new initiatives is, quite frankly, lazy.

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  • Getting to the top takes a long time, and I don't think we can just flick a switch to correct the wrongs that have been foisted on women throughout history.

    If we correct it at an entry level (which we seem to be doing - women under 30 out-earn men, there are more female trainees, etc.) then the situation can be corrected within a generation.

    I just don't see the merits in suddenly imposing short-deadline targets which ignore the root of the problem.

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