Today is International Women’s Day. This annual event was started in 1911 and is supported by over a million people. It is:
a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
This years’ hashtag is #breakthebias. The campaign hopes to create a “gender equal world” free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. As a woman of mixed race background, and the mother of a (very energetic) 20-month-old boy, I am fully on-board with these goals.
But my reasons for supporting the campaign are not just personal. Stepping back, I can see the bigger picture as a lawyer. Here are three reasons why the values promoted during International Women’s Day matter to law firms, lawyers, and clients alike:
1. Equality, inclusion, and diversity makes lawyers better at their jobs
The focus on diversity has long been a goal for law firms. It has been promoted by the Law Society and our regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority for over a decade, with good reason. Women now make up 52% of lawyers in law firms, which is 4% more than in the general workforce.
Never has diversity, equality, and inclusion been more important than during the pandemic. McKinsey, the global firm of management consultants, produced a 2020 report on diversity, in which it described how:
“There is ample evidence that diverse and inclusive companies are more likely to make better, bolder decisions—a critical capability in the crisis.”
This is something which lawyers like me have always known, even if we do not promote it. The law is not black-and-white, and “justice” means different things to different people. Clients come to us for help to achieve it. Viewpoints from lawyers with varying backgrounds and cultures make justice possible by finding creative solutions for (what may initially appear) insurmountable legal problems.
2. It helps law firms with recruitment and retention
My own firm has taken its commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion further by making a public commitment. It is a signatory to the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter (Find our details here.) Among other things, signatories must commit to:
Strive to achieve best practice in our recruitment, retention and career progression practices as employers
I am a good example of that aim. I have been at Donoghue Solicitors for over five years. That is a long time to stay at the same law firm, especially during the pandemic and subsequent “great resignation”. One of the reasons I am still here is the help I have received to fulfil my own career ambitions.
I was already well on my way to becoming a Chartered Legal Executive when I joined Donoghue Solicitors. But, with hard work, and the support and encouragement of my colleagues Kevin Donoghue, Daniel Fitzsimmons, and the rest of the team, I continued my studies and became fully qualified.
Since qualifying as a Fellow in CILEx, I have taken an increasingly challenging, yet rewarding, caseload. I also mentor others in the firm. By doing so, I provide practical help as well as inspiration, particularly to the younger members of my team who are following a similar route to legal qualification. As a senior lawyer, it is important that I lead by example.
I have also been through the life-changing experience of having a baby. For many women in the law, motherhood can pause, or even end, their careers. Thankfully, that has not happened to me. The nurturing environment we enjoy at Donoghue Solicitors meant that I was able to flexibly return to work after maternity leave. This approach was even more significant given that we were going through a global pandemic when I came back. Dealing with covid issues, being a new mum, and pursuing my career – these things were only possible because my firm made good on its commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion.
3. Gender diversity is good for the bottom line
Empowering women in the workplace makes sense financially. McKinsey found that companies which focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion outperform their competitors.
In fact, McKinsey’s 2020 report found that these companies were 25% more successful than those which did not focus on gender diversity.
Stop and think about that for a minute. A company can increase its bottom line by a full quarter by doing something it should be doing anyway.
This huge increase is even more remarkable when you compare it to recent years. As McKinsey reported in 2015, companies in the top quarter for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have profits above their national industry average. For that number to increase to 25% in just five years shows that things are changing, fast.
Collective Effort at International Women’s Day
These three reasons show why the principles of International Women’s Day matter. Law firms, and lawyers, who fail to adopt them are going to struggle to survive. Luckily, they don’t have to do it alone. We can, and should, do this together for our mutual benefit. As American writer and feminist organiser Gloria Steinem said:
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Kemmi Alfa is a Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. Contact her for expert legal help here.