Managing partner Sally Hutton collects the award from awards host broadcaster Leanne Manas (left) and Isobel Rees, Legal Week Events Managing partner Sally Hutton collects the award from awards host broadcaster Leanne Manas (left) and Isobel Rees, Legal Week Events

Finalists: Absa Bank (highly commended)

Webber Wentzel’s launch of its maternity support programme – the first from a South African law firm – ensured it picked up the Diversity Initiative of the Year award. The programme is part of the firm’s wider gender strategy to attract and retain female staff, particularly at a senior level.

Led by Sally Hutton (pictured), the first female managing partner at a major South African law firm and a mum of three, the programme is designed to give support to mothers after they return to work (a period where research shows they are more likely to quit) through one-on-one coaching sessions to review their career and family balance, and re-establish their career goals.

It also provides coaching to line managers to help them understand and support staff returning from maternity leave. The firm has already been making strides to boost diversity: more than half of Webber Wentzel’s staff are female, and the firm has the highest female equity partnership (35%) of any major South African law firm. Since the programme was launched, the firm has seen an increase in woman occupying leadership positions – the number of women on the board edged up to 33% from 30%, and half of all heads of department are female (up from 40%), including the firm’s chief financial officer.