Law firms are increasingly moving towards introducing targets into the workplace to encourage gender diversity, and Ashurst has just become the latest to join a growing list of major firms to do just that.
But the managing director of Hive Legal
says that while targets are a positive step forward, they need to be linked to the culture of any law firm.
She tells Australasian Lawyer
Gender diversity targets are good – as far as they go – but almost useless unless real leadership commitment exists.
KPIs for all senior management must be linked to meeting targets. There must be real and personal motivation to ensure that change happens.
So whilst I unreservedly applaud the recent move by Ashurst – and other large conventional firms – to implement targets, they are only part of a toolkit to achieve gender diversity and cannot replace genuine leadership commitment.
What does such commitment look like?
We at Hive Legal were intrigued and inspired to read an article on the Harvard Business Review
website entitled “How one law firm maintains gender balance”, about the commitment by Gianmarco Monsellato, CEO at Taj in France to achieve gender equity at the 5th
largest law firm in France. Leadership commitment such as this to 50/50 gender representation at all levels of the firm is highly unusual in the profession, but critical to achieving industry wide gender diversity.
To achieve this, Monsellato’s approach doesn’t mirror those of other conventional firms. It is not based on targets or diversity programs. His approach is based purely on merit and has been highly successful. A meritocracy based approach is admirable and in an ideal world, preferable to targets and quotas. However it depends on a person (and an organisation’s) ability to overcome issues of conscious or unconscious bias, to see beyond issues of maternity leave, part time work or client attitudes and fully appreciate the excellence of many women and their capacity to perform as effectively as men.
In reality, there is no such thing as objective merit – a person’s level of ‘merit’ for a particular role is always partly subjective and for partnership in firms it is often a question of ‘fit’. When elements like that are part of the process for advancement in an organisation there is always room for bias to come into play – both conscious and unconscious. Targets can help overcome this.
So if, even in a meritocracy, we can expect bias, then it is the bias itself that must be addressed. Of particular resonance in Monsellato’s approach was the following comment:
“…gender balance is more about getting male leaders, and men in general, to push for balance than it is about getting women to change their own behavior.”
To circle back to my opening comment, this requires real leadership commitment to change. For now, we have targets but no personal impact to leaders (financial or otherwise) if the targets are not met.
A little discussed aspect of targets and quotas is the concern that men of equal or greater merit will be overlooked in favour of women in order to meet a target. Giving this concern more weight than the discrimination and inequality that targets and quotas are trying to address inherently values discrimination against men as worse than the discrimination against women – quite insulting when you think about it.
Given the opportunity to start with a clean slate – without legacy management structures or pre-existing cultural assumptions – we are acutely aware of the importance of building gender equity into everything we do at Hive Legal. This means building systems and infrastructure that accommodate the fact that there are many different ways people (both men and women) work effectively to deliver high quality outcomes to clients.
With technology and work practice advancements over the past decade, a one size fits all approach is both unnecessary and counter-productive to retaining the best talent and delivering the very best client outcomes. Building flexibility and open mindedness into our approach leaves us free to make merit based decisions and heartily pursue full gender diversity and confidently have them linked to personal KPIs.
Well done to Ashurst and management teams at other conventional firms in setting targets. Now we look forward to seeing your personal KPIs linked to achievement of those targets. Only then are we likely to see the percentage of women at a critical mass sufficient to change culture.
Jodie Baker, Managing Director, Hive Legal
Jodie Baker returned to the legal industry as managing director of Hive Legal after more than a decade in financial services, and her perspective spans large global to small Australian firms, each with vastly different approaches to diversity programs and working practices. Baker is committed to leveraging legal services innovation to deliver excellent quality outcomes for clients and improved opportunities for women to participate in top quality work.