Tackling Gender Diversity in Law in the Covid-19 Era

We should recognise that diversity and equality matter as a point of principle in the workplace, but we can now draw conclusions that they have an uplifting effect on business performance. The legal profession has spent years wrestling with gender diversity but, for all the progress made, we still have some way to go. Law firms are reluctant to change until it makes sense in purely business terms. It is encouraging, therefore, that a stronger focus on diversity is increasingly likely to lead to greater financial returns and create a competitive differentiator that shifts market share positively.


The recently published Acritas’s report (2020)[1], Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law, shows that gender-diverse teams in law firms attract a significantly higher client spend. McKinsey’s Diversity Matters (2015) [2]found that companies (in Canada, Latin America, the UK, and the US) in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.


Client pressure plays a growing role in promoting gender diversity. Acritas found that, globally, close to three-quarters of law firms reported client pressure to increase gender diversity among their ranks, which generated more momentum in their efforts. Whether driven specifically by clients’ ideals or not, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, one of a few firms to announce notable promotions and appointments of women in 2020 (https://blog.hughes-castell.com/2021/03/05/celebrating-women-in-law-firm-leadership/) to senior positions, has undergone a spurt of growth to expand its stateside footprint with a number of women hires[3].


In Japan, fairly or unfairly seen as a society that puts significant value on the traditionally male-dominant senior workforce, partners at the recognised “Big Four” firms admit that in order to compete for international work, they can no longer ignore the need to make diversity and inclusion part of their firms’ core values. Especially when their clients, especially in the financial sector, now field transaction teams typically comprised of over 50% women[4].


Remote working is regarded as a game-changer for achieving gender diversity and was widely adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Will the aftermath of Covid-19 improve gender diversity in law? During the pandemic and the ensuing closure of schools and leisure facilities, and with home lockdowns being imposed, female lawyers invariably suffered from the burden of unequal family duties of childcare and schooling, supervising kids’ remote learning during the day and fitting in working hours where possible. Paradoxically, there are reports that some women have found the remote work situation to be bolstering their cause by thrusting the issue of unequal family duties front and center. Increased paid family leave and universal childcare are becoming more frequent topics of conversation in the legal market.


On the topic of diversity, we are happy to have May Tai of Herbert Smith Freehills and Hong Tran of Mayer Brown share with us their diversity and inclusion strategies or initiatives:

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[1] Acritas,‘Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law’, legalexecutiveinstitute.com, Thomson Reuters, 2021, https://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Transforming-Womens-Leadership-in-the-Law-Global-Report-2020.pdf (accessed 25 February, 2021)

[2] Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, ‘Why diversity matters’, mckinsey.com, McKinsey, 2015, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters (accessed 25 February 2021)

[3] ‘Freshfields Taps First Woman Leader, Still Rare in Big Law’, bloomberglaw.com, Bloomberg Law, 2020, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/freshfields-taps-first-woman-leader-still-rare-in-big-law (accessed 25 February 2021)

[4] Jessica Seah, ‘Even in Japan, Law Firms Boost Diversity Initiatives to Attract Women Lawyers’, law.com, American Lawyer Media International, https://www.law.com/international-edition/2020/11/12/even-in-japan-law-firms-boost-diversity-initiatives-to-attract-women-lawyers/ (accessed 25 February 2021)


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