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Thomson Reuters launches women’s leadership programme to turn the dial on gender inequality in the legal industry

Last Wednesday, Thomson Reuters launched its Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) programme, to help play a role in the industry to address the issues that impede women as they progress to the senior levels in their legal careers.

The programme, which was unveiled at a launch event in central London, was attended by senior industry leaders, both male and female, from across the legal sector – all focused and unified in their ambition to drive greater gender diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.

Opening the launch event, Lucinda Case, Managing Director of Thomson Reuters’ Legal UK & Ireland Business, acknowledged that all in the room were likely aware of the near parity joining the legal profession, but that female numbers fall as their careers progress through the ranks.

Case noted that whilst the awareness of gender diversity issues has improved in recent years, women still find it challenging to progress into senior roles throughout their legal careers. The Solicitor Regulation Authority reports that women make up almost half of lawyers entering the legal profession in the UK − however, this trend is not representative at more senior levels. Overall only 33 percent of women achieve partner status. There is a greater difference for larger law firms of 50 or more partners – which have only 27 percent female partners. Smaller firms, with only two to five partners, have 35 percent female partners. As for the FTSE 100, it’s reported that there are only 22 female GCs. Of those called to The Bar, nearly 50 percent are women – yet just 25 percent of the judiciary is female.

‘Considering that we will celebrate 100 years of women being able to practice law next year’, Case said, ‘the ongoing disparity between men and women leaders in law is somewhat surprising. Though, it’s fairly consistent with a lack of progress in the representation of women in executive positions across many industries.’

As the programme’s sponsor, Case is an extremely passionate and long-time advocate of a diverse workforce – especially at the senior levels. Case expressed how pleased she was to launch the TWLL programme as it is an opportunity for the Thomson Reuters’ Legal Business, in the UK, to ‘provide a platform for debate and practical steps’ to help organisations find ways turn the dial on gender inequality.

The TWLL programme has formed a UK Advisory Board and Case said ‘it has representatives from private practice, in-house and public sector’ – to ensure there is representation from various perspectives in legal practice. Further, Case acknowledged, it was ‘not a conversation or a problem for women alone to address’. The TWLL programme aims to be inclusive and give male advocates ‘a voice to share the great initiatives’ they are championing to help increase diversity in their organisations.

Through events and content, the TWLL programme aims to further the discussion and identify actionable steps and interventions in order for more solutions to be implemented to remove structural barriers that could hinder women’s advancement.

Susan Taylor Martin, President of Thomson Reuters’ Legal Business, who is the UK TWLL programme’s executive sponsor, and also the sponsor of the original chapter of the TWLL programme in the US, added ‘it’s not just the right thing to have more women leaders in the workplace, it’s good business’ and that ‘a more diverse workplace is a more innovative, productive and creative workforce that drives bottom line results and attracts the best and brightest talent.’

Taylor Martin noted that the statistics in the US legal market on female leaders were similar to the UK, and they too have a long way to go in their legal market. “At Thomson Reuters, we have a passionate commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Taylor Martin, and stated that CEO Jim Smith announced on International Women’s Day in 2017 that Thomson Reuters will increase the commitment to women leaders within the organisation to 40 percent by 2020. Taylor Martin said, ‘40 percent is still no gender parity’, but is headed in the right direction.

The keynote speaker was Funke Abimbola MBE, General Counsel and Head of Financial Compliance at Roche, who shared several inspiring anecdotes describing her challenging route to reaching senior leadership level as a British-Nigerian female lawyer. Abimbola spoke about the well-known difficulties women face progressing in their legal careers – from balancing family life with work to even having a unique surname – and offered tips and ideas on how the legal industry can, if it wants to, strive to build a more diverse workforce.

During Abimbola’s Q&A that followed her keynote speech, there was a refreshing sense of optimism and positive energy in the room, as senior leaders from the legal industry asked thought-provoking questions that lead into lively discussions after the close of the formal event.

The launch event helped to once again place focus on the obstacles and challenges women face to progress in their careers to the senior leadership levels in the legal profession. On a positive note the launch event illustrated that there is an unequivocal collective desire to work collaboratively to increase the representation of women at the more senior levels across the legal industry.

For information about the TWLL inaugural conference on Tuesday 1 May 2018, please click here.

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