A record number of women made partner in 2017, but female attorneys still lag far behind their male counterparts in promotions to partnership, according to a new report by the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance.
Using data from more than 133 Big Law firms, the report found that women made up 38.1 percent of newly promoted partners—up from 37 percent last year—while men accounted for 61.9 percent of promotions in 2017.
“I still think it shows that there’s a lot more work to do,” said Manar Morales, president and CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance. “Even as it continues to creep up, it’s doing it at a pretty glacial pace.”
In 2012—the year the Alliance began collecting its data—roughly 33 percent of newly promoted partners were women. That percentage remained fairly stagnant until 2016, when women accounted for 36 percent of partnership classes.
“We are seeing it going in the right direction, albeit quite slowly,” Morales said. “But it’s clear from the trends and numbers that [there’s] a lot more to be done.”
One highlight of the report Morales noted was that 43 law firms, or roughly 32 percent of firms surveyed, had new partner classes consisting of more than 50 percent women—the largest since the study began four years ago.
Firms that had the highest percentage of women promoted included Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which elevated five women among six newly selected partners; Steptoe & Johnson, which promoted four women and one man; and Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein and Paul Hastings, which each elevated three women among four newly elected partners.
Ten firms, however, promoted no women to partnership status. This statistic ties with 2016 for the smallest number of firms with no women in their partnership class.
Fish & Richardson promoted eight men and no women to its partnership. Andrews Kurth Kenyon and Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice (which is now Womble Bond Dickinson), elevated four men and no women. Gibbons, Munger, Tolles & Olson, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Shearman & Sterling, and Sullivan & Cromwell each had three promotions—all male.
“Given the amount of focus that firms are putting on diversity and trying to make sure that they get their partnership to look more diverse, I would’ve expected more growth,” said Alycia Ziarno, a commercial litigation partner at Nixon Peabody’s Washington, D.C., office, who was part of the firm’s promotional class in 2017 that consisted of seven men and seven women.
When she was up for partnership, Ziarno said that the firm made sure to take into account that some practice groups tended to promote more women than others, and pushed its practices to advance women in all areas.
“We’ve made the conscious effort as a firm to look at [gender diversity] and that is taken into account as a part of the partnership evaluation in who are the candidates that you’re going to promote,” she said.