City firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has made it a ‘strategic priority’ to support women in leadership roles, incoming joint chief executive of the firm Sonya Leydecker told the Gazette this week.

Leydecker (pictured, left), head of global disputes, will become joint chief executive with managing partner Mark Rigotti (pictured, right) on 1 May. She is the first woman to head a firm of Herbert Smith Freehills’ size.

‘Women are under-represented in all sectors at senior levels and I would like to see more of them in high-profile jobs,’ she told the Gazette.

‘I believe having women in leadership roles can have a positive impact on an organisation’s culture and innovation, and it is important for me that [HSF] has made it a strategic priority to support women’s development as leaders.’

Leydecker will retain responsibility for the firm’s global disputes business until she becomes chief executive 1 May. As joint chief executive she will be responsible for all of the firm’s international practices and regions. This will include overseeing the integration of the 2012 merger between Herbert Smith and Freehills and further internationalisation, she said.

Attracting and retaining talent from a more diverse base will be key as the firm continues to globalise, she said. ‘Working to increase the number of women in the partnership and in senior management positions is of particular significance and will remain one of the key commitments for our firm.’

City firms have a poor record for gender diversity at partnership level. On average, 19% of magic circle partners are female, according to research by the Chambers Student Guide .

Leydecker and Rigotti replace outgoing chief executives David Willis and Gavin Bell.