Women in Law Pledge: our journey

In this article, Lewis Silkin discuss their experience with our Women in Law Pledge to mark the two-year anniversary of its launch.

People in a meeting

At Lewis Silkin, we know that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace will generate broader discussion and ideation, and that will result in innovation, enhanced client service and a strong and cohesive culture.

We see achieving gender balance throughout our firm as a critical goal.

Making our commitment

We heard about the Women in Law Pledge as the gender strand of our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Board was refreshing its strategic plan ahead of our First 100 Years celebration. We wanted to have a clear and directional action plan to take us forward into the next 100 years.

Our ethos at Lewis Silkin is bravery and kindness and we had started to talk internally about the fact that being brave meant translating “awareness into action”. 

We wanted to move towards meaningful change alongside raising awareness. We also wanted to play an active role in creating a more equal profession.

The Women in Law pledge provided a really valuable framework for our action plan and it helped us to focus on the areas of most impact.

In our case, some aspects of the pledge were already materially addressed.  For example, in relation to senior leadership accountability, we had already appointed a partner onto our Strategy board with responsibility for D&I to ensure that all strategic decisions had a D&I focus.

We had launched, internally and externally, a campaign called 'a lasting change' to bring our clients and contacts together to tackle sex discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace. This included a group focused on creating change in the legal sector.

We had also worked with the Old Vic to launch the Guardians’ Programme and had trained a group of Lewis Silkin guardians to ensure we had a confidential outlet for colleagues to share concerns about behaviour or the culture at work.

Diversity targets

Other areas required more focus.

We had already had lots of discussions about targets: whether there was value in targets and how we would go about setting realistic but ambitious targets.

The pledge gave us the push we needed to articulate targets at all levels of the firm, including amongst our partners and on our Operations and Strategy boards.  We felt it was important to have targets that reflected both participation and reward and remuneration.

In relation to participation, we wanted focus on the importance of inclusion and gender balance and so deliberately avoided framing targets as being X% of women by a particular year. Instead, our target is that our partner group will comprise no less than 45% women and 45% men by our target date. 

In relation to reward and remuneration, our target reflects our ambition to materially reduce our pay gap. We have also articulated action-based objectives.  For example: no all-male pitch teams or panels at events; challenging the make-up of panels colleagues are invited to speak at; replacing ‘Dear Sirs’ with gender-inclusive salutations.

We are also nearing the end of an exercise to make all other template and precedent documentation gender neutral.

Progress and learning to improve 

We quickly learned the importance of reviewing and reporting on targets. Having targets can be a bruising experience because progress is rarely a 'straight-line' exercise. There have been years where we have performed strongly against some targets but found ourselves further away in others.

Having targets and understanding the reasons for positive and negative change has helped us to shape other actions. For example, in relation to recruitment we wanted to have more active control in the end-to-end process of recruitment and reduce our dependency on agents to generate gender balanced short-lists.

That has led to us creating a new, and senior, recruitment role within our HR team with particular focus on diversity and inclusion.

Reviewing our partner appraisal process

When we reviewed our partner appraisal process – which in turn feeds into partner remuneration – the pledge helped structure our aims and offered new considerations to help us achieve them. 

We wanted to ensure that contribution to D&I and, more broadly, our wider community goals and objectives was being properly recognised and rewarded. We amended partners’ appraisal forms to require each partner to record and assess their own contribution in D&I.

Setting D&I objectives

With the support of the Diversity and Inclusion Board, we have also required each legal practice group and business services team within the firm to assess their annual performance from a D&I perspective and to set at least one D&I objective for the forthcoming year.

The pledge requirement to look at women at different levels and stages of their career has also helped us to take action.

We have a Lewis Silkin menopause initiative to support women both within the firm and in the advice offered to clients, allowing people to share experiences and feel comfortable in asking for support.

We have also invested more in our maternity coaching, with meetings for managers as well as expectant and returning mothers. 

The impact of the pandemic on different parts of our community

When the pandemic hit, we were conscious that we quickly needed to understand the impact on different parts of our community. A significant part of that was understanding whether women at Lewis Silkin were detrimentally impacted – for example as a result of home schooling or other caring responsibilities – as was being widely reported in the press.

The results of our survey showed a greater impact on women, but it was more marginal than was being reported.

That gave us confidence that action we had taken early on to try to address the impact of the pandemic – for example launching a kindness time recording code to give people permission to take time out for themselves and others – had been impactful and likely to have been particularly helpful to women.

Overall, signing the pledge has been a fantastic framework for our “awareness into action” goal. The backing of the Law Society has given credibility to our initiatives and achieved a recognition that may have been more challenging without it. 

We would encourage everyone who has not signed to pledge to do so.

Related resources

The Women in Law Pledge

Experiencing menopause in the legal profession

Practical toolkit for women in law

Female talent retention in a post-COVID world

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS