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Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law programme celebrates one-year anniversary

Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) programme celebrated its one-year anniversary last week, following its launch into the UK and Ireland in 2018.

The TWLL programme, which was founded by Thomson Reuters in the US, and then expanded to Canada, was developed to help address the structural barriers and encourage the cultural change needed at an organisational level for more women to advance in the legal profession.

The programme aims to reposition the conversation away from what ‘women can do’ and put greater onus on organisations, law firms and the wider legal industry. It shares potential solutions for leaders in the legal profession to truly drive change—through a series of events, articles, interviews, and white papers.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the programme operating in the UK, the UK TWLL Advisory Board and other senior leaders from across the legal industry attended a special event held in London on 7 February to look back at the programme’s activity in 2018—and to look forward to the year ahead.

Opening the event, Lucinda Case, Lead, Legal Professionals, Europe at Thomson Reuters, and TWLL programme sponsor, said that while it is clear there is a strong representation of women entering the legal industry, “the profile of leadership, wherever you look, does not reflect that same pool of female talent”. Case added that throughout 2018, the TWLL programme aimed to be “incredibly practical”, and ensure that, through its series of events and meetings, big or small, people left inspired—and armed with actionable steps and ideas to take back to organisations to help achieve a more diverse legal profession.

The TWLL programme’s foundational activities are to raise awareness, provide forums for discussion and engagement, and find solutions for improving diverse representation in legal practice. Additionally, the TWLL programme will continue to specifically focus on the “buy-side/sell-side” dynamic, and the pivotal role in which clients can play to help bring about change.

Secondly, Case noted the research project that Thomson Reuters started last year in partnership with Acritas, surveying law firms on the topic of gender diversity, in a bid to identify the levers that could be successful in moving the needle forward on a more gender equal legal industry.

Jo Summers, Global Relationship Director at Acritas, presented interim results of the research project which shows that women still make up more of the junior associates, and trainees, and most of the business services and secretarial roles. However, the representation of women plummets for equity partners—down to 23 percent.

The initial findings also indicate that law firms are implementing some of the necessary measures to drive change in the leadership roles and promote diversity, but with mixed results. In addition, there is indication that law firms feel clients can play an important role in applying pressure to firms and ask for improved gender balance at all levels in the teams assigned. The complete findings of the joint research between Thomson Reuters and Acritas will be published later this year.

During a panel discussion on the topic, Rob Booth, General Counsel and Company Secretary at The Crown Estate, said both clients and law firms should work together to find common ground on goals to achieve gender parity, specifically to identify the most effective levers which can contribute to driving change, adding: “It almost isn’t about pressure from the buy-side, it’s about a joint understanding of what is effective in the middle”.

Richard Blunt, Corporate Equity Partner at Baker McKenzie, concurred, highlighting the importance of having an open partnership on the issue of gender diversity between the clients and law firms because “you need to be aligned on what you are both trying to achieve”, he added.

Emma Codd, Managing Partner for Talent at Deloitte, shared insights into the work which Deloitte has done on the topic of gender diversity. She added that in commencing the work around the issue, the most important factor was to as an organisation “admit that it is not about fixing women” and instead about fixing the workplace. As a result, the accountancy giant focused on culture, Codd said, as well as agile working, identifying the pain points and respecting inclusion by creating safe ways where staff can raise issues and concerns.

She also emphasised the role the buy-side can contribute, adding: “We deserve to lose pitches when we turn up with a panel that isn’t diverse. The more that clients can drive that when it comes to representation—and not just in the room, [but] representation in doing the work, actually leading the team is critical—so I applaud everything that is done on that side”.

Bullying and sexual harassment

Interim results of a global survey conducted last year by the International Bar Association (IBA) on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession were presented by Kieran Pender, Legal Advisor, Legal Policy & Research Unit at the IBA.

The survey, which had 7,000 responses from 134 countries, returned stark findings with thousands of alarming anecdotes revealing the extent of bullying and sexual harassment across the legal industry globally. The initial findings of survey showed that lawyers who have been bullied or sexually harassed leave their workplace, request internal transfers, and some leave the profession entirely.

That churn, and brain drain, Pender added, is bad for organisations and the profession as a whole, and that there are significant adverse mental health consequences as a result of bullying or sexual harassment.

Looking forward

After engaging presentations and lively discussions, Case closed with an expression of gratitude to the TWLL Advisory Board for their tremendous support—as well as the presenters and guests of the anniversary event. Ending the evening on an incredibly uplifting and positive note, Case said, “we are creating change and we will leave this profession in a better state than we found it”.

For a copy of the TWLL Annual Report 2018 click here. To stay up to date with latest TWLL programme developments and content, click here. Also, to register for the TWLL Annual Conference in London in April, please visit our registration page.

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