Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Hogan Lovells have U.K.’s top firms continue to struggle to increase female representation among their senior ranks.

Hogan Lovells had aimed for 25 percent of its partners to be female by this year, a goal the firm set five years ago. However, it has fallen just short of this target, with women currently making up 24 percent of its global partnership.

This January’s promotions round saw eight women made up out of a total of 29, equating to 28 percent, and the firm is now targeting a 30 percent female partnership by 2020.

Meanwhile, HSF has missed its own interim target for this year. The firm had set its sights on a 25 percent female partnership by May 2017 and 30 percent by 2019 and, since setting these goals three years ago, the firm has seen its female partner ranks grow by 5 percent. However, the current figure still stands at 22.5 percent.

“The majority of our practice areas and regions have hit the 2017 interim target, but overall we have fallen short of the 2017 target – which means our 2019 target will also be challenging,” HSF said in a statement. “However, we have made real progress and our targets have been instrumental in ensuring that we maintain our focus, learn and improve on this key business issue.

“The depth and quality of female candidates we are seeing in our partnership pipeline is outstanding, and we are continuing to work on achieving the percentages we have set for ourselves.”

Earlier this week, ALM Media’s London-based publication, Legal Week, reported that Ashurst is also on track to miss a key gender diversity target for 2018, with the proportion of female equity partners at the firm significantly behind its target of 25 percent. The firm unveiled a series of targets in 2014, including an ambition to have women make up one-quarter of the equity by 2018. However, only 15 percent of the firm’s current partners are female.

Both HSF and Hogan Lovells have recently stepped up pressure on partners to take responsibility for improving diversity within the firms by including it as an assessment point within reviews.

Their efforts come as other top firms take stock of how best to support their female lawyers and improve representation at partner level.

Taylor Wessing has rolled out a series of gender diversity action plans for each of its practice leaders after conceding it would not achieve its target of a 25 percent female partnership by 2018.

These include elements such as succession planning, work allocation, sponsorship of key talent and agile working, while the firm is also establishing an appointments review committee to advise the board when deciding on key management roles.

Sian Skelton

According to the firm, the aim is “to ensure a range of views are sought during the appointments process and that consideration is given to the diversity of our management team.” As part of this diversity push, the firm appointed IT partner Sian Skelton to the U.K. board last month.

Of the other U.K. top 20 firms, nine currently have targets to improve female representation among their ranks – and some have already reached these goals – with two more (Clyde & Co and CMS UK) considering introducing targets.

Both Eversheds Sutherland and Pinsent Masons set out an intention to achieve a 25 percent female partnership by this year, and both are now at 26 percent. Pinsents has set a new target of growing female representation to 30 percnet by 2020, while Eversheds Sutherland is currently reassessing its diversity strategy to establish its next steps.

Berwin Leighton Paisner, meanwhile, has confirmed it is currently on track to achieve its goal of 30 percent female U.K. partners by the end of next year, with the figure currently standing at 27 percent.

Other firms are still working on their own targets for female representation, with some making more progress than others.

Allen & Overy (A&O) has a range of targets designed to improve female representation at differing levels of seniority. By 2020 the firm wants at least 20 percent of its partnership to be women, 30 percent of annual partner promotions to be women and 30 percent of non-elected leadership roles to be held by female partners.

Currently, 18 percent of the firm’s partnership is female, and this year the firm made up just two women, equating to 8 percent of the total round. Earlier this year managing partner Wim Dejonghe told Legal Week that he was personally asking office managing partners, practice group heads and HR heads to “take ownership of the pipeline that candidates come from, and make those figures accountable”.

Among A&O’s magic circle peers, Clifford Chance and Linklaters also both have 18 percent female partner representation. CC has a target of 30 percent but has no deadline to achieve this figure by.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, meanwhile, has just 14 percent female partners and, while the firm states that it is “considering a number of mechanisms that can help support us in our ambition to be more gender diverse”, the firm does not have any targets to help it achieve this ambition.

Since 2014 Linklaters has aimed for 30 percent of new partners to be women, as well as 30 percent of positions on its governance and management committees.

While the firm met the 30 percent female target for new partners in 2014 (43 percent) and 2015 (30 percent), only 21 percent of 2016′s partner promotions were female, and this year’s round included only five women out of 26, equating to just 19 percent.

However, the firm has made better progress with regards to its management committee, which is now 42 percent female, although its governance board still has only 23 percent women.

“We remain absolutely committed to our gender goals,” said managing partner Gideon Moore. “Diversity in all respects is not only right, but is business critical as it allows us to deliver a better service to our clients.”

Norton Rose Fulbright is also focusing on representation at its senior levels, aiming for 30 percent of its executive committee, global board and regional management committees and boards to be female by 2020, as well as its partnership.

Firms with softer targets include Simmons & Simmons, which is aiming for 30 percent of its managing associate and partnership promotions each year to be women, as well as lateral partner hires. Currently, half of the firm’s elected board is female, while 16 percent of its global partnership are women. This year’s partner promotions round fell slightly short of the 30 percent target, with three women made up in an intake of 12.

Gowling WLG, meanwhile, is playing the long game, aiming to have a 30 percent female partnership by 2026, with an interim target of reaching 25 percent by 2021.

Six other U.K, top 20 firms do not have female partner targets, although this includes Irwin Mitchell, which already has a 42 percent female partnership, and CMS, which is already ahead of many other major UK firms at 30 percent.

Bird & Bird, which has a 24 percent female partnership, also has no specific target it is aiming to hit. However, last year the firm piloted a women-focused training program which provided extra support for those aspiring to be promoted, and the firm has decided to run it again in 2018.

Meanwhile, DLA Piper and Slaughter and May, which both have 20 percent female partners, as well as Clyde & Co on 22 percent, have no current stated targets to improve female representation. However, Clydes and CMS are both planning to introduce both gender targets.

Percentage of female partners globally at the top 20 UK firms:

  • Irwin Mitchell – 42%
  • CMS – 30%
  • Eversheds Sutherland – 26%
  • Pinsent Masons – 26%
  • Norton Rose Fulbright – 25%
  • Hogan Lovells – 24%
  • Bird & Bird – 24%
  • Herbert Smith Freehills – 22.5%
  • Clyde & Co – 22%
  • BLP – 22%
  • DLA Piper – 20%
  • Gowling WLG – 20%
  • Slaughter & May – 20%
  • Taylor Wessing – 19%
  • Allen & Overy – 18%
  • Clifford Chance – 18%
  • Linklaters – 18%
  • Simmons & Simmons – 16%
  • Ashurst – 15%
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – 14%