Women making their way into the top roles of major companies in every industry is a hot button topic; the technology, government, banking, and legal worlds are just a few of the leading industries that have been under scrutiny for their tendencies to hire and promote women to top spots of leadership. But the dearth of female top lawyers in the U.K. has been notorious, and it has only just begun to amend itself, as women begin to scatter the landscape of an industry deeply rooted in hiring practices that traditionally do not involve them. 

A report from the Financial Times notes that the number of women in top law firms in the U.K. is even lower than the number of women in top banking companies — an industry famous for excluding women from its top roles. 18.6 percent of partners in the U.K.’s top 20 law establishments are women — according to The Lawyer magazine — despite a decently balanced number of trainees each year. Compare that to Lloyds Banking Group’s 28 percent of women in senior roles and Barclays 21 percent, and the legal field does seem to lag in its equal-opportunity promotions.

The Financial Times also interviewed Penelope Warne, senior partner of London-based CMS Cameron McKenna. Her take on the lack of women at the top of legal firms suggests that no single cause is to blame, but the problem is multi-layered: “Big City law firms are conservative kinds of places…It’s many different aspects of the way we do our business, which over years and years has been hugely profitable. Therefore people hang on to a traditional model.”

But study upon study has shown that companies that incorporate more women at higher levels do more successfully than ones that don’t. Research firm McKinsey annually reports on the incorporation of women into senior levels of businesses. Its 2013 report emphasized:

“Companies with a ‘critical mass’ of female executives perform better than those with no women in top management positions. We found that one reason for this outperformance lies in the leadership behaviors that women leaders tend to exhibit more often than their male counterparts.”

All in all, there is still work to be done in the legal sector to bring women up to the top levels of leadership — the U.K. has its obstacles, but the U.S. is not exempt. The Financial Times’ report continued to describe the statistics taken from the U.S. National Association of Women Lawyers survey as finding just 4 percent of the 200 biggest law firms in the U.S. having female managing partners.


Further reading:

Dispelling the myths of the work/life balance

Fox Latin America features an all female in-house team

50 best law firms for women