General counsel have the power to influence gender diversity in law firms, a newspaper legal chief said today.

Sarah Davis, group commercial legal director at Guardian Media Group, told a London conference on women in law that she knew several female GCs, adding that GCs were in a ‘position to influence’ and buy legal services in the way you want.

She said: ‘You can say to law firms "actually when you pitch to me, I don't want to see four white men. I don't want to come into your office and the only people of colour I see are the people serving the tea or on security. If that’s my experience of your firm you’re not going to be the firm for us”.’

Davis told the conference there were many ways to affect diversity change ‘but that’s a way I’m trying to exercise the small but, in the context of my world, the very real power I have’.

Davis joined Guardian Media Group in April 2010 and is responsible for commercial, corporate and regulatory activities across the group. Her legal team includes three women who have returned to work after having children.

She told the conference: ‘We have firms who we have longstanding relationships with. They know, because I have been clear… that we want people who [for instance] have returned to work. We have been as explicit as that.’

Davis was on a panel discussing women leaders in law at the event organised by the First 100 Years project, which has been charting the journey of women in the legal profession since 2019.

Davis was joined on the panel by Bar Council chair Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC, Outer Temple director Christine Kings and Bar Standards Board director general Vanessa Davies.