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.


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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) 

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Comments

Millie Tant 28 June 19 09:54

Trying to work out if your comment about how a firm with no female partners can qualify if they promote one non-white woman into the equity works, since surely that gives you a female partner? Are you drawing a distinction between sex and gender or just explaining that badly?

Millie Tant 28 June 19 09:57

But yes, you’re right, the whole thing is bloody laughable.  I look forward to firms signing up to the Platinum Badge for Not Being Racist, Because We Hired a Person of Colour Once.  

Anonymous 28 June 19 09:58

Good on them. Equality of outcome is entirely undesirable. Equality of opportunity is fair and important. 

 

Don't patronise or deter success by imposing quotas, I don't fancy being promoted up a level because I'm LGBT over a more suitable colleague. 

A quota system will see a haemorrhage of talent. 

 

Anon 28 June 19 10:26

What concerns me is why firms feel the need to acquire such hollow and meaningless accolades. Why not just demonstrate properly that they care about diversity and inclusion, i.e., by actions rather than lip service. Goodness knows what goes through a managing partner’s mind when approving an application for this type of thing.

Anonymous 28 June 19 10:34

Nice to see in the comments that some people think that if you have an 80% male partnership, that's evidence that equality of opportunity must be working juuust perfectly! To throw around some stats, 61% of solicitors admitted to the rolls in 2017 were women, and more than 50% of the people that hold practicing certificates are women. But hey, I'm sure that of those firms that have fewer than 20% of women in partnership, the men just *deserved* it more. I mean, women have precisely the same equality of opportunity as men, amirite?!

There's just no way that (i) unconscious bias in the existing partnership (ii) outdated working practices (iii) the fact that the vast majority of unpaid domestic continues to fall to women (iv) the lack of female partners leading to junior women thinking that partnership is an unrealistic goal and (v) flat our discrimination in ANY WAY inhibits women's professional lives or their opportunities! Thinking otherwise would be just silly.... 

Anon 28 June 19 10:36

"Although a 'Gold Standard' might be expected to require firms to reach at least 50% female equity"

 

Without wanting to triviliase what is otherwise a very serious subject, I'm a bit confused by this line. Is equal opportunity for women only achieved when 50% of an equity partnership is made up of women?  Is a firm more equal when even more than 50% of the equity partnership is made up of women?

Anonymous 28 June 19 12:03

WILEF’s website is brilliant - they have an entire “department” named “You Go, Girl!” Oh dear. 

Anonymous 28 June 19 13:17

Fool's errand to try to compare gender split by solicitors admitted to the rolls 2 years ago or gender split by solicitors on the roll with gender split by partner. Apples and oranges.

Human 28 June 19 13:30

Correlation doesn't establish causation.

Women don't make partnership for many possible reasons including

sexual discrimination

sexual harassment

differential biological / practical demands of childbearing on male / female parents affecting volitional choices

other personal preferences / priorities

societal norms which women of their own volition chose to conform to

discriminatory parental leave government policies (SPP is far worse than SMP)

Bond Girl 28 June 19 18:48

WILEF clearly doesn’t do any DD when dishing out these awards; a cursory trawl of the internet (or the records at the High Court) show that a former partner (male!) is suing the firm for age discrimination but has also alleged a misogynistic culture. The quote in the article in Personnel Today reads:

Further allegations include that one senior partner was guilty of “repeated unpleasant, bigoted and misogynistic conduct” to staff and some of the other partners.

Anonymous 28 June 19 18:55

Its unconscious bias to assume that any difference in the number of women partners is solely due to discrimination. There's a lot of conscious bias behind trying to promote women to partner regardless of merit.

Anonymous 28 June 19 21:06

Due diligence should only concern itself with facts, not mere allegations. I take it if the matter has gone to court the allegations are being denied.

Anonymous 29 June 19 07:38

What are the 'outdated working practices' that you perceive discriminate against women, anon? In my view women only networking groups and women only awards are outdated and discriminate against men, but I can't think of any outdated working practices which discriminate against women. Not saying there aren't any, but struggling to think of them.

Anonymous 29 June 19 16:27

Don't really see the #metoo angle, it does feel a bit as if even if there was 100% female partners in a given firm, some people would claim discrimination and say there should be 101%.

Bond Girl 30 June 19 15:00

Anonymous 23:32. The alleged events were before my time at the firm in question. The alleged events are referred to in the current High Court case so I’m sure they’ll come out in due course. If the claimant wins that argument then I’m sure that it will be damaging for the firm in question.

Anonymous 30 June 19 21:33

Its hard to say if the events might be damaging to the firm without even knowing what the allegations are though, Bond Girl. It sounds like Personnel Today should have done a bit more homework before publishing the article. Not at all like HR people to repeat vague allegations though!

Bond Girl 01 July 19 09:43

Anonymous @ 21:33. Yes, you are right, some more due diligence on the matter would probably have provided more details but as the matter is currently in the courts the writer of the article may not have wanted to run the risk of getting into hot water reporting much more detail. The outcome of the court action will be reported once it has finished. I agree that HR can cause problems but not all HR teams are bad but I do think that weak HR together will inept or bullying management and/or partners can create situations where bad behaviour goes unchecked. 

Anonymous 01 July 19 19:17

Restrictions apply to reporting on criminal, not civil, cases Bond Girl. Other than that I agree with you - HR usually act as tools of management, whether that be covering up for bullying or incompetent managers in some cases or throwing an accused person under the bus to try to show all accusations are 'taken extremely seriously' in others. That's why allegations need to be investigated and reported honestly. Most of the time HR aren't up to the job and are a major source of bullying and harassment.

Blink 04 July 19 07:18

this is exactly what happens when men try and tick the diversity box and demonstrates why women still need to club together with their female only groups etc to try and advance on their own merit.

Bond Girl 05 July 19 07:33

Anonymous @ 19:17

Totally agree with your comments about incompetent HR usually acting as a tool of bullying or incompetent managers. I think that’s one good reason why exit interviews with employees who are leaving firms should be done by a third party organisation so that true and accurate feedback can be obtained without fear or reprisals or manipulation of the facts.

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