Firms risk losing talented female solicitors to their competitors if they don’t achieve a better gender balance in the workplace, a City ‘diversity champion’ has warned, as research continues to highlight male dominance at partnership level in the top firms.

Akhil Markanday, a partner at international firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, highlighted the business case for a better gender balance at an event last night entitled ’Celebrating Women in Law – a Shattering of Glass’, organised by the firm, the Association of Women Solicitors and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Exit data for some of the firm’s leavers in 2015/16 showed many women citing 'career progression’ as the reason for their departure.

Many clients are 'miles ahead’ of firms, Markanday said: 'We got some feedback a while ago on a pitch we did. We were told we had more females in our pitch team than all the other firms put together.’

Markanday said Berwin Leighton Paisner partners have been educated on some of the key issues preventing firms from achieving a better gender balance: unconscious bias, professional modesty and gender communication.

However, he told the audience of mostly female solicitors that men must be engaged more proactively in gender diversity strategies. 'It’s not about “what about the men?” but ”let’s include the men”,’ he said.

Other suggestions included women mentors to help men understand the issues better, male gender champions and regular, proper career conversations.

Concluding the event, SRA executive director Jane Malcolm said: 'What we have been talking about is a fundamental culture change. That's difficult, really difficult. It takes time.'

Malcolm added that the regulator is conducting a 'thematic piece of research on what the profession looks like at the top of their organisations'.

Market research from legal recruiter Edward Drummond & Co, published yesterday, shows that fewer than one-fifth of partners at the top 10 law firms are women.