Women make up almost two-thirds of graduate roles in Australian law firms, but are still underrepresented at the leadership level, particularly in equity partnership, according to new research.
The Pitcher Partners’ ‘2019 Legal Firm Survey’, conducted by national independent firms association Pitcher Partners, which sought responses from 140 “mid-market firms”, has found that 64 per cent of graduates in law firms across the country are female, with males making up the remaining 36 per cent.
However, at equity partnership level, women make up only 16 per cent of such partners, with men holding the other 84 per cent.
Women make up one-third of the non-equity partners in Australian firms (33 per cent), with men at 67 per cent, but – despite being a direct parallel with the two-to-one ratio at graduate level, Pitcher Partners is taking the ratio of non-equity partners as a positive step forward.
“The 33 per cent of female non-equity partners is an encouraging sign provided that non-equity partners are a path to equity partnership and not just a holding pattern for senior practitioners,” it said
Looking at the gender split at the graduate level, compared to the numbers in senior positions, Pitcher Partners said that resolving the gender diversity imbalance will take more than just more female hires.
“Firms need to look at what strategies they have in place to retain staff and also develop and incentivise towards partnership.”
When it came to staff retention policies, 89 per cent of firms responding to the survey listed flexible working arrangements as an initiative employed to keep their workers. The most popular such policies after flexibility were learning and development (68 per cent), incentive remuneration (62 per cent) and career progression opportunities (57 per cent).
Commenting on the ongoing popularity of such policies, Pitcher Partners mused that it “will be interesting to see if the attractiveness of incentive remuneration wanes as the impact of the recommendations from the Hayne royal commission make themselves felt outside the financial services sector”.
The Pitcher Partners’ research also found that despite movement away from billable hours from segments of the legal profession, new research indicates that law firms that bill at least half of their work by the hour continue to show higher profitability.