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.