Gender targets and embedding flexible working practices in corporate culture are among recommendations by over 130 senior City partners and in-house counsel to increase the number of women partners.

The proposals, outlined in a report published today, follow an international summit attended by delegates from top City firms, boutique practices and senior in-house counsel including Ashurst, Deloitte, Herbert Smith Freehills and BP. It was created to address the slow progress made increasing diversity at senior levels in the profession.

Women make up 47% of the solicitors profession but account for only 20% of partners, according to the Law Society’s 2011 statistical report.

The report of the International Women in Law Summit 2012 says that firms should commit to the adoption of targets and encourage partners to be accountable for retention, career development and building a ‘diverse pipeline’ and to make flexible working a choice that does not impede career progression.

It also recommends that professional bodies including the Law Society should consult with firms on mechanisms for introducing such targets, including definitions and timescales, and to report, track and publish their progress.

A survey, commissioned by the Law Society and carried out by LexisNexis in advance of the summit, shows that 64% of the 1,144 global lawyers who responded viewed gender diversity as an important commercial issue for the legal profession, with 32% believing that quotas are needed to deliver change.

Respondents said the three main reasons so few women reach senior positions were: the required effort to reach senior levels and have a family; the time required to reach senior levels creates an unacceptable work/life balance; and unconscious bias meaning the profession selects in its own image.

Speaking at the report’s publication, Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff praised the ‘increasing number of firms’ that have embraced and adopted flexible working practices, but urged others to do more to attract and retain women in the boardroom or at partner level.

She said some firms merely pay lip service to flexible working and may ‘unwittingly’ be ‘losing talented women and promoting mediocre men’.

‘If career progression was based on pure merit, some male business leaders and law firm senior partners would never even have seen the paintings on the boardroom wall,’ she said.

Attending the launch, minister for women and equalities Helen Grant said: ‘Women are at the heart of this country’s economic growth strategy. We need to do all we can to make the most of their talents and skills and that means providing them with the support to balance family life and a career.’