Diversity in the workplace, particularly the diversity of women, has been a very popular topic of late. Recent activism movements are a strong reminder of the progress women have achieved, but also a wakeup call that there is still a long way to go.
We've long enjoyed a reputation for having a strong representation of women at all levels, including senior management. However, we share a common challenge with many other law firms in that our partnership is not representative of the gender split at associate level. More than 50% of our associates are female and yet only a quarter of our partners are female.
Our global board was very keen to address this and find out why, so, in 2016, we launched our Global Women's Development Programme as part of our wider Gender strategy.
Our aims & objectives
Our goal was to help retain our high-performing female associates, develop a global network of women across the firm, to encourage more role model behaviour and most importantly, inform us as a firm of any gender specific barriers to progression. Diversity information is also increasingly requested in pitches and panel reviews by our clients and prospects, many of whom run their own cutting-edge diversity initiatives. With many of our clients promoting gender equality, it’s essential that we do the same.
The combination of these factors made a clear business case for us to take action.
We undertook a great deal of planning to ensure the programme was tailored to our firm and the specific concerns of our female lawyers. We worked with a specialist consultancy to help research and design the programme, which gave us both expert insight and a valuable external perspective. The team undertook extensive research, including interviews with various female and male partners around the firm, current female associates and also recent female leavers to gather information on what the main challenges were within Bird & Bird.
The support from the top has been invaluable to the success of the programme. Each Head of Country worked with our CEO, David Kerr, to encourage participation and suggest participants. Once the delegate list was finalised, individuals were personally invited to attend the programme by our CEO. This helped to ensure strong engagement from the outset.
The programme was launched in London in November 2016. The agenda was based on the key areas identified by the research we undertook, including opportunities for discussion around the issues our women face, workshops to provide leadership and other skills training, plus networking sessions. There was fantastic energy around the event, as the programme was widely publicised internally.
Despite being a new programme, it has already delivered great results to both the individuals and the firm. Since the programme began, five of the women who attended have been promoted to partner, and two to counsel (a role between associate and partner levels).
On top of clear results in terms of career progression, we are particularly proud of the connections formed between attendees and the positive knock-on effect the programme has had. For example, one 2016 delegate was inspired to set up a very popular mentoring scheme for female clients which focuses on facilitating mentoring relationships in the Media, Entertainment & Sport sector. Delegates also report that they are in regular contact with each other, and appreciate the opportunity to bounce ideas off other women in similar positions.
The programme was also a milestone for us as an organisation as we had never previously run such an in-depth initiative to promote gender equality.
Since the launch, we have introduced clearer communication around how the partner process works, along with Q&A’s with some of our new partners. We’ve also updated the policy around parental leave for partners and given clearer guidelines on how associates can manage their own career. We believe this programme has had a profound impact not only on the attendees, but on the wider firm. It was a clear signal from the firm that it takes gender equality seriously and is prepared to invest significant resources into achieveing our goals.
We've been keeping the programme under constant review through feedback gathering and regular catch-ups with the attendees. This helps us to evaluate both successes and the business relevance of the content and structure, and make tweaks where relevant. For example, we introduced formal partner sponsors for the 2017 programme following feedback from the 2016 cohort.
We are also tracking the career progress of those involved, to measure whether the programme has a direct impact on their future career paths.
The annual nature of the programme means we have a pool of past delegates we can invite to speak and share their own persective, advice and support. We believe this rich reserve of insight will help to sustain the initiative and ensure optimum knowledge sharing.
Our goal is to keep developing the programme year on year, to ensure we are supporting our female employees as much as possible. Through the implementation of the programme and more awareness across the firm, we hope that over time the gender divide in our partnership will become more equal.