Glen Norris | Source: The Australian, Tuesday, December 1, 2023 | Males lose out in law partner race

Male lawyers are missing out on promotions to partner as top law firms impose aggressive gender equity targets that favour women.

Shaaron Dalton, strategic adviser at legal search firm Eaton Strategy + Search, said some men were having to resign and move to other firms to achieve partnership as their female colleagues were given positions they had hoped for.

Her comments come as The Australian’s Legal Partnerships Survey revealed that 33 per cent of partners across the nation’s law firms are women.

Ms Dalton said many top firms had set a target to have 40 per cent female partners and were on track to achieve that.

“There is now a disincentive for males to join the legal profession and that is showing up in the data – females now make up 67 per cent of law graduates,” Ms Dalton said.

“If you are giving preference to one group over another, the group that is missing out is going to ask: do I have a future here?

“Of course the male lawyers, if they are talented enough, are going to be fine and will find partnership positions elsewhere. But it is not fair and you are starting to get a backlash.”

Globally the push for more women partners has been partly motivated by gender discrimination lawsuits by female lawyers against law firms. Industry sources say big law firms tendering for government work now had to prove they had gender equity policies in place in order to win work.

Ms Dalton said the pendulum had well and truly shifted, with the infamous “old boys club” in the legal profession likely to be replaced by a female-dominated profession in the years ahead.

“Things had to change from the old days. Law is now seen as a great career path for women but not so great for men,” Ms Dalton said. “So it is getting to the point of whether we need to question whether something needs to be done (to encourage more men). The old boys’ club no longer exists, and who knows, in 10 years we may have the old girls’ club.”

Ms Dalton said the gender shift had accelerated over the past five years, and had become particularly pronounced after the pandemic. The introduction of flexible work arrangements during lockdowns was more conducive to women, particularly if they had children and other domestic duties.

“It was the end of ‘presenteeism’ and law firms realised that working from home could be more productive than working in the office,” she said.

“It is a generational change and the old guard is being pushed out by the new guard.”

Presenteeism is a workplace phenomenon where showing up takes higher priority over taking care of oneself. Employees are physically present, but due to illness, personal circumstances, exhaustion, or burnout are unable to be productive or perform.

Travis Schultz & Partners managing partner Travis Schultz said that whenever new policies and targets were set there were often unintended consequences.

“While the ‘evening-up’ takes place, there might be some male lawyers who feel aggrieved if overlooked for promotion,” Mr Schultz said. “But I don’t think this will cause men to leave the profession – they’ll just look for other opportunities.

“Perhaps ironically, with two-thirds of new entrants to the profession being female, there will come a time when the outnumbered males will benefit from ­diversity targets and the overlooked females will become the aggrieved.”

Clayton Utz says its board is now 50 per cent female and it remains committed to a target of more than 35 per cent women in its partnership ranks.

Allens says it has set a new target of at least 40 per cent female partner representation by 2025, under its 40-40-20 aim: 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent any gender (women, men or non-binary ­persons).

Baker McKenzie’s national managing partner, Anne-Marie Allgrove, said the firm hired and promoted lawyers to its partnership based on merit.

“We have set targets of 40-40-20 by 2025 for our Australian partnership which consist of 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent for either women, men or people who identify as non-binary,” she said.

“We are committed to gender equality. We are focused on various ways to achieve the target. In our experience, the steps we are taking are beneficial to all our people regardless of gender.”


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