Thought leadership from our experts

Building that pipeline

There is a lot of talk these days about pipeline, about targets for female partners, directors and the like. In my own firm, Hogan Lovells, globally women comprise 23 per cent of partners and 53 per cent of associates and other lawyers. In finance women comprise 14 per cent of partners. We have a global target of 25 per cent female partners by 2017 and 30 per cent by 2022.

I genuinely believe that this has become the reality for many companies. Globally, women are joining corporate boards at greater rates than at any time in history. 25 countries have introduced legislation or regulatory requirements for female representation on corporate boards. In the UK, 62 per cent of law students are women.

Most of the top firms and companies have publicly committed to diversity,‎ recognizing the benefit it brings in many areas: attracting talent; improving business performance, strengthening brand; greater innovation; better collaboration, etc.

Nonetheless, when firms like ours look at our partnership pipeline, and companies look at their director pipeline, we find that it quickly becomes fairly spartan. When we go out to the recruitment market, the same thing. Try finding a female high yield partner!

I have been the head of Hogan Lovells' finance practice since July 2014. I believe, passionately, that women should be independent (you just never know what can happen to you in life and, in my view, work is the best medicine!).

So why then, do firm's like ours and indeed, the finance profession as a whole, have difficulty in retaining women so that behind our women partners or women on boards, there is a full pipeline of female candidates.

I was very saddened early into my new job to learn that one of our very good young associates (let's call her Amy) was leaving to go to a bank. I asked Amy why. Amy replied that is was because she would never be a partner. When asked why not, Amy replied that it was because she would not be good with clients (I will come back to this). As we worked things through, it became clear that Amy was intent on getting married and having a family and did not think that partnership was compatible. The fact that Amy was not engaged to be married and did not know if she could have children was irrelevant. Talk about Sheryl Sandberg's "lean in" or rather "lean out" syndrome.

This conversation ‎prompted me to ask our bank clients what they have that law firms do not (my own experience at Barings in the aftermath of Nick Leeson's misdemeanors having discouraged me from that walk of life). There clearly are attractions: the closeness to the business and decision makers; being there at the outset of transactions; more flexibility; more holidays.... And yet, banks and other financial institutions are having difficulty retaining their talented women also.

So why is this? ‎I have no magic answer but here are a few thoughts. External factors clearly are at play. The cost of housing in cities has created considerable strain, with people having longer and longer commutes. The cost of childcare also. One young lawyer said to me that partners are detached from their reality. While they start with a decent wage, many of them do not have the proximity to work that partners had when they started their careers. I think that this is an important factor. While everyone is different in that fragile work/life balance, I know that I would not have had the career I have had if I had had to spend hours on the tube. I deliberately chose to live, work and have children in Paris, all within a short drive/walking distance. It has made a huge difference to my quality of life and my ability to juggle everything.

These longer commutes are breaking down the social fabric. Our work colleagues are very important and, yet, increasingly people are reluctant to stay and socialize because of the long commute home.

Humans need social interaction and, yet, we increasingly are isolated in our work. Many of our young people are in jobs where they are in front of their screens, the telephone rarely rings and, bringing me back to Amy, the opportunity for meetings is much more rare. A lot of transactions sign electronically and clients are very wary of too many lawyers turning up to meetings. So Amy had had relatively little opportunity to interact with clients and therefore could not know whether or not she would be good with them! I worry about this isolation. I know that the millennium generation are very good with their screens and their virtual social networks, but I cannot believe that putting people in front of screens all day is a way of making them feel part of a firm and nurturing them.

This lack of social interaction means that our younger colleagues have different expectations, are less bound to a firm and more inclined to move. Their roots are not so strong.

They don't necessarily want our lives. My response to that is that I do not want them to have my life; I want them to have the best for them and make the most of their potential.

But the fact remains that when I look at my pipeline for partnership, there are far more men than women who stay the course, and I think it is too facile to say that this is because of children.

Children are terribly important for their mothers, but also for their fathers. These days not all of the child care burden falls on the mothers. Society is changing and, certainly, in Hogan Lovells, many of our successful women are supported by men who do more than their fair share of childcare. That certainly is my case, although it does require a careful choice of one's partner!

Also, more and more women are delaying having children or may not even want them, so many women in my pipeline do not ‎have children. I really do believe that, at least in the finance profession, we should throw the stereo type of women over their careers away. Data shows that, in the UK, 60 per cent of senior female associates do not have children. And when women do have children, let's welcome it - we will need a young workforce to keep us in our old age. In any event, I refuse to believe that children is the only reason why I have so few women compared to men in my pipeline.

Perhaps then, it is because women do need more social interaction than men? Perhaps we need more nurturing? ‎Perhaps we don't "lean in"?

Whatever. I want to build my pipeline. While not all women want to become finance partners or board members, I am sure that there are more potential candidates than are staying the course.

So what to do ?

There are many excellent initiatives that Hogan Lovells are leading or developing:

- Agile Working - I was fortunate to discover (during my maternity leaves at all times) that clients do not care where you are as long as the work gets done‎. Law firms must get much better at understanding this and finding means of flexible working. In this world of longer commutes, it is the difference between an acceptable work/life balance and an unacceptable one.

- Returnships - this is relatively new for Hogan Lovells, but I love the idea concept of bringing people back into the workplace, not just after maternity leave, and creating less of an age pyramid which you find in law firms. Mixing the older and younger at different levels of qualification adds to diversity and allows people to take time out to pursue other interests, and them come back with a view towards working for partnership or senior positions.

- Sponsoring and Mentoring Programs‎ - I was sponsored (although I am not sure that my sponsor or I even had come across the word) right from the outset. When he recruited me, my sponsor's words were "you could be a star here". Many successful women in the firm have been sponsored also. Indeed, the path to partnership almost always requires sponsorship.

Mentoring is often the pathway to sponsorship, finding somebody to provide advice and support. Mentoring programs enable the creation of those relationships. Sponsorship is so much more and more difficult to create within the context of a formal program. A sponsor is there for you; he or she will use their position to actively promote you and make your aspirations a reality. However, it is a two-way street, a relationship that takes time to build: a sponsor has to trust you and that will not come without hard work and loyalty. Often to find a mentor or a sponsor, you really need to network.

- Networking‎ - in this world of screen-based social interaction, networking programs, internal, external, with clients, peer-to-peer, alumni, etc., are vital. Firms need to embrace them as a means of engaging their employees; they also are fantastic means of client development. The noise level and buzz in some of our women's events never ceases to amaze me. Internal networking programs also are very good means of creating those sponsorship relationships.

In Hogan Lovells, we have many network activities: annual ladies events in many offices; an inspirational speaker series; collaboration with clients (for example, a jointly-sponsored speed networking event); several external partnerships and memberships, including the 30% Club; and a Global Women's Executive Summit which is a thought leadership conference for senior female executive clients. We also sponsor the Women's Forum.

- Citizenship - with such screen-based lives, people need something more meaningful. In my view, citizenship is key to that. I am proud to be in a firm where exemplary citizenship‎ is an integral part of Hogan Lovells' culture and strategy. Our shared belief in the value of social responsibility is one of the bonds that unifies us as a global firm and we seek to engage all of our offices and people in our citizenship programs. In January, we became the first law firm to launch a global citizenship policy that expects everyone in the firm to undertake 25 hours of citizenship activities a year. These activities cover pro bono, volunteering, fundraising, diversity and environment.

In particular, we have a new Empowering Girls and Women Initiative and our Clinton Global Initiative "Commitment to Action" to empower girls and women through focusing a significant part of our citizenship activities on addressing gender-based violence, enhancing educational opportunities‎ and empowering women to shape society through fostering sustainable women-led business opportunities.

And yet still it is hard to build that pipeline...

My own thought is that all of these are fantastic initiatives (I wish that so many had existed when I was a young lawyer) but perhaps we are not starting them early enough? Rather than only starting to look at that pipeline seriously when our people become senior, we perhaps need to begin much earlier. We need to return to a more nurturing environment for our young people, not allowing to be in front of their screens all day. After all, we don't want that for our children.... It goes back to sponsoring and mentoring.

It means making time ‎for our young people and ‎creating forums where they feel comfortable to talk about their aspirations before they turn to the headhunter. It means giving them meaningful roles to play at an early stage. In that context, Hogan Lovells launched HL BaSE (Hogan Lovells Business and Social Enterprise) in February 2015. It is an unique global business skills program for lawyers are the start of their careers, delivering sharp business and financial skills and putting commercial understanding and thinking at the heart of our approach to clients. HL BaSE provides practical, hands-on and supervised experience of advising social enterprises, creating an entrepreneurial spirit, and places our work and advice within the wider social context. It is so good that even our ‎clients want to partake.

As I said above, I do not have magic answers but I do want any aspiring young woman in the world of finance reading this article to understand that we have got it, we do care and, for those who want it, we do want to see them at the top of our profession‎. So, please, all of the Amys of this world, please do talk to us.