WIPR Influential Women in IP 2019
Women in the boardroom www.worldipreview.com
What more needs to
Clearly legal departments, whether private
practice or in-house, and the profession as a
whole need to do more if the legal sector is ever
to achieve the pipedream of gender parity.
Law firms across the globe have set targets for women
on the board, with some implementing quotas for
“It would be naïve to say that men and women
have an equal playing field in the present time. I
believe that years of discrimination need an equal
amount of years of redress to bring the situation to
an equal playing field,” says Chowdhury, adding that
quotas are the remedy to a problem that has existed
“Quotas break the years of traditional thinking
and force the system to change. I believe that for a
certain span of time we do need quotas for women
until the playing field truly becomes equal and women
have the predisposed advantages that men do.”
Egon Zehnder’s report backs up the proposal.
“Countries that have seen the biggest
improvements in board diversity are those that
operate under some form of quota system,” says
Beasley. “They are, however, not perfect as some
countries do have quotas, such as Germany, Austria,
Israel, and they aren’t meeting them.”
He adds that quotas aren’t the only solution—the
UK doesn’t have a formal quota and but has made
progress towards its board diversity targets (28%
of board positions in the UK are held by women,
compared with 20.4% globally).
Majumder says: “I don’t think quotas are bad if
you want to undo historical wrongs and give a poorly
represented demographic a better shot.”
However, while many respondents cited quotas
and targets as undertakings by their firms, some
expressed critical opinions.
“Quotas are not a great idea, because no woman
wants to be thought of as the ‘token’ woman who
is only there because of the quota,” warns one
A separate respondent urges companies to set
targets for board and partner diversity at more than
“If it is more than token, it prevents firms picking the
easy options—women with no children or with househusbands.
It also prevents the ‘plucking out of the
chorus’ syndrome where a single woman is advanced
and used to show diversity while everyone else has to
deal with an unchanged organisation,” they add.
The respondent also suggests that firms learn from
the LGBTQ community and make sure that there are
diversity champions among the senior men, so it is
not always seen as women arguing for inclusion.
As the majority of senior partners and board
members are men, it’s obvious that having men
champion gender diversity is a good plan.
McLean adds: “We need to bring men on board as
diversity partners and champions. That means having
open and candid conversations where we share the
data and research that shows how greater diversity
benefits us all.”
In addition to engaging men in diversity, it’s
important not exclude them.
Armstrong warns that some of the steps that have been
taken to support women have also accidentally alienated
men, who feel excluded from coaching and mentoring
support. They often say that flexibility isn’t something
that is accessible for them: “it’s just for mums”.
Breaking down barriers
Women face a multitude of barriers throughout their
working careers and many of these barriers contribute
to a workforce that leaks, particularly during childrearing
The message is clear, though—accept that the
profession needs to do better and break down these
barriers to benefit from a more diverse workforce.
One respondent sums it up perfectly, setting out
a three-point plan for the profession and for legal
Has your organisation
set targets for gender
Private practice In-house counsel Service providers
SHUTTERSTOCK / GREG BRAVE