Case study

Think, Act, Report: Herbert Smith Freehills

Increasing the numbers of women in the partnership.

Issue to be Resolved

In 2010, the firm set up a partner-led Gender Group to consider how we increase the number of women in the partnership. The percentage had remained stubbornly the same at around 17%. We were concerned that we were losing talent and not realising the full benefits of greater diversity to our business. The recommendations of the resulting Gender Report informed our Gender Programmes.

The Gender Group reviewed our gender demographics, looked at best practice and research, carried out interviews with women by an external consultant and debated and disagreed. The Gender Report identified the key issues for women in our firm. At recruitment we recruit 50/50 men and women and this continues to Senior Associate level but is not translated in to the partnership numbers. How do we sustain the pipeline of talent to increase women in the partnership?

Action Taken

The Gender Report informed the development of our gender programmes as follows:

  • Women Lawyers Network to connect women, support career development and engage with clients.

  • A mandatory programme of unconscious bias training for partners.

  • Targeted leadership development at key career transition points.

  • Mentoring and sponsorship are integral to our programmes.

  • Monitoring the pipeline against targets and taking action.

  • Role modelling to increase understanding of the pathway and life as a partner.


  • There are 400 members of the women lawyers network and increased connectivity
  • Monitoring nominations to the Potential Partner Programme saw an increase in women on the programme
  • 34% of partner promotions in 2014 were women
  • Targets have had the effect of increasing line accountability
  • 80% of London partners attended the unconscious bias programme generating over 100 individual actions

Going forward

We will continue to address unconscious bias and introduce Inclusive leadership training for regional executive teams globally to develop regional plans. We will also monitor progress against our targets of 30% women in the partnership by 2019 with an interim target of 25% by 2017. Lastly we will sustain the pipeline of female talent and tackle lateral hire recruitment which can be 100% male.

Participation in the 30% Professional Services Firm initiative has been incredibly helpful in providing an industry focus to our work.

Published 4 November 2014