The Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee wants law firms and in-house legal departments to do more to improve gender equality.

At an event celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Gender Fairness Committee on Tuesday, co-chair Elizabeth Campbell appealed to firms and legal departments to sign a newly revised Gender Fairness Commitment Statement. The new document asks firms and legal departments to take “concrete action” to achieve such objectives as a “material increase” by 2020 in the number of women who are partners and firm leaders.

By signing the document, the firms and legal departments pledge to develop and use objective and unbiased criteria to evaluate women attorneys for partnership and leadership positions, and to generally promote policies and practices to retain and advance women attorneys and achieve gender parity.

Elizabeth Campbell

Campbell, who was a partner and chief diversity officer at Andrews Kurth Keynon until the firm’s merger on April 2 with Hunton & Williams, said the 2018 statement replaces one first issued in 2011 that had been signed by 32 firms in Houston and three legal departments. She said the new statement includes specific and achievable goals.

She wants every firm and legal department in Houston to sign it.

Campbell said seeking a “material increase” in women partners and women in leadership roles at firms and legal departments is a goal that is measurable and achievable if the firms or departments are serious about it and willing to commit to it.

The statement does not require participants to report back to the committee, but Campbell said she hopes firms will do so by 2020.

According to the 2017 National Association of Women Lawyers Survey on Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms, only 19 percent of equity partners in firms are women. The survey, done a year ago, includes statistics from 90 of the 200 firms included in the 2016 Am Law 200 reports.

Alistair Dawson

Alistair Dawson, a partner at Beck Redden who is Houston Bar Association president, said the new statement provides firms with specific challenges that can promote gender parity in firms. “We need to have specific programs for firms to promote general fairness and parity and [the statement] gives them a way to track their own accountability,” Dawson said.

Dawson urged Houston firms to sign the statement, noting that it is in their interest because clients are demanding diversity in the lawyers who represent them.

Does that mean his firm will sign? “It will. You can rest assured, it will,” he said.