A US company which certifies which firms have excellent female partnership prospects has awarded nine firms in the UK its 'Gold Standard'. The only problem is, its benchmark for excellence is very low.
The 'Women In Law Empowerment Forum' (WILEF) hails from the US, where, it says, it is the "premier organization for women in law".
This year it landed in the UK, and has awarded its first "WILEF UK Gold Standard" to nine firms in respect of their UK partnerships. Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith Freehills, Watson Farley & Williams, Hogan Lovells, Latham & Watkins, Mayer Brown, Reed Smith, Sidley Austin and Womble Bond Dickinson all applied and made the grade.
Hooray! But before readers apply in their thousands to WILEF's certified female utopias, please note that firms do not need to achieve a great deal to make that grade.
Although a 'Gold Standard' might be expected to require firms to reach at least 50% female equity, WILEF is less demanding. It doesn't require firms to show a 50% female equity partnership, or 40%, or 30%. Firms can in fact get away with 20%, and potentially much less than that.
They needed to meet three of the five following criteria:
- 20% of equity partners or, alternatively, 33% of the lawyers becoming equity partners during the past twelve months are women
- 20% of the firm’s primary governance committee are women
- 20% of the firm’s compensation committee are women
- 15% of the top half of the firm’s equity partners in terms of compensation are women
- 7% of women equity partners are non-white or 3.5% of women equity partners are LGBT
It means a Gold Standard firm can have 80% male equity partners, 80% male governance and promote men to the equity in 70% of cases. On that basis, even Jones Day might qualify.
And because only three of the criteria need to be met, even a firm with no other female partners can receive the Gold Standard, if it promotes one non-white woman into the equity and onto the compensation committee.
A pioneering firm celebrates leading the way for women.
Betiayn Tursi, WILEF's Global Chair and Co-Founder, defended the low thresholds. "Before we create a criteria", she told RollOnFriday, "we do our research to ascertain where the profession is in terms of percentages of equity women in law firms. From what we know it's at about 20%. That being said, five of the nine UK Gold Standard firms met the 20% threshold. So it is not so easy to do." Right-oh then. In a departure from certain awards companies, she said that firms did not have to pay to apply, get certified or to use the Gold Standard on promotional materials.
Firms love slapping on a progressive-looking badge, but sources told RollOnFriday that characterising an overwhelmingly male partnership as a Gold Standard for women distracted from their genuine diversity achievements. Especially in the UK, where women make up over 45% of lawyers in firms and already comprise over 30% of the average partnership.
"This is 2019", said one former HSF lawyer, "and this organisation is actively celebrating firms with 20% women as the Gold Standard. Surely the Gold Standard should be 50%. Maybe they can offer Bronze or Zinc for 20%."
An excellent idea, which RollOnFriday shall now steal. Firms may apply for the Ladies Are Brilliant 'Iron Award' to showcase their pro-women credentials. Qualification is limited strictly to firms which can answer 'yes' to at least two of the following three questions:
-Have you ever seen a woman?
-Could you bear it?
-Pay £50 for a certificate? (Mandatory)