EDITOR’S LETTER

Richard Brent, editor-in-chief|Briefing

Our cover story this issue concerns the management of firm ‘culture’. Can this concept really cross the barriers of all those notorious functional silos that may or may not be dissolving in a law firm like yours? And can it result in a recognisable common identity based on an appreciation of certain core values and the behaviours that show them at work?

I don’t imagine many Briefing readers would today argue against the value of inclusion as an ingredient of any work on such an area. And yet, a new survey from the First 100 Years Project in February found “considerable barriers” not only to career progression for women working in the legal profession, but also to basic equality.

More than half (58%) of women surveyed – solicitors, barristers and others – said they had received inappropriate comments related to gender from male colleagues at work, and 46% admitted they had ignored an incident of discrimination in case it had a negative impact on their careers.

Perhaps most striking, only 2% thought there was ‘true equality’ in the profession, and a third expressed the view that such equality likely won’t arrive in their lifetimes, or indeed for 100 years. One associate damningly stated: “Diversity and ‘women’s initiatives’ are PR-orientated – my firm is a supposed leader in these areas on paper, but it’s a different story in practice.”

And one partner, promoted in an otherwise all-male partnership, said: “I felt I had to constantly justify my position, as some within the partnership hinted that I was only offered the role because they needed a female partner.”

Another commented: “Gender discrimination is rife. The ‘boys’ network’ remains in full force, excluding women from networking opportunities and bullying them so that they feel inadequate and incapable.”

There were some positive comments – particularly concerning opportunities to work flexibly and have a better work-life balance without it impacting career progression.

But if these results and views are in any way representative, I’d say easy talk of a strong, cohesive workplace culture, uniting people in common purpose and goals, should be subject to hard scrutiny.

This article can be found in Briefing magazine: Look who’s talking.

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