The profession's major representative bodies have called on firms to sign a pledge committing to actively promote gender equality in their workforce.

The women in law pledge has been devised by the Law Society, Bar Council, and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, and details will be announced at the Society's international summit on gender equality today.

By signing the pledge, firms commit to: support the progression of all women into senior roles; set specific gender targets at leadership level; develop an action plan to achieve gender equality, commit to tackling sex discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment; and ensure specific aspects of pay, reward and recognition of the senior leadership team are linked to delivery against the gender equality targets.

Society president Christina Blacklaws said: 'As a profession which strives to uphold justice, the legal profession must be at the forefront of the fight for gender equality and diversity in the workplace. In signing the Women in Law pledge, legal organisations across the country will hold themselves accountable for gender equality in their workforce and commit to creating a more diverse profession.'

Last year women comprised 62% of new solicitors but only 30% of partners in private practice. Law Society research published this year showed that unconscious bias is the greatest barrier to career progression for women.

Lord chancellor David Gauke has backed the pledge. He said: 'We know that a more balanced workforce is good for business and the wellbeing of organisations. I already see this first-hand at the Ministry of Justice, at which 48% of senior positions are filled by women committed to public service.

'It is only by working together that we will improve equality and diversity and I encourage all law firms and others to sign the pledge and ensure there is equal opportunity at all levels.'