Ashurst brings in female quota for management roles in diversity push

Ashurst has become the first leading UK law firm to introduce a quota for the number of women it wants to employ in management positions, with the City firm aiming to have one quarter of its management posts filled by women within the 
next three years.

The target has been introduced by the Ashurst Committee, which was created at the start of 2011 by senior partner Charlie Geffen and global head of corporate Stephen Lloyd with the intention of improving the retention of female lawyers.

The quota will apply across leadership positions including practice group heads, regional heads and the firm’s management board, as well as applying to various partnership committees, such as those dealing with remuneration and partner promotions.

However, the firm expects the quota to apply as a percentage of all of the available positions and will not insist that women manage, for example, one quarter of the firm’s practice groups. The quota will also not apply to annual partnership promotion rounds.

Ashurst estimates women currently hold around 14% of its management positions. Caroline Carter and Anna Delgado are the only female lawyers managing practice areas – heading the employment and debt capital markets teams.

Geffen said: “Targets such as this have been viewed sceptically by people in the legal industry and beyond, but it is my perception that change will not come about unless firms go some way to implementing targets and performance indicators for tackling diversity.”

Ashurst’s decision to introduce a quota comes as European corporates come under pressure to increase female representation on their boards, with some countries introducing quotas. UK-listed companies are being encouraged to voluntarily increase female representation rather than face mandatory quotas from Europe.

Law Society diversity chief Pat Corcoran commented: “These types of announcements should be applauded, as it indicates that there is a commitment to make measurable progress. The benefit of targets such as this is that it sends a clear message out to the business and it help firms gauge how much resources they will have to dedicate to achieving them. The real issue in some law firms is in relation to who is making it into partnership.”

However, the move has been criticised by some City partners, who remain opposed to using any form of quota to tackle diversity issues despite years of initiatives making little progress in increasing female representation at the senior levels of major law firms.

Click here for Legal Week’s in depth feature on women in law.