Big firm moves away from PQE in bid for 50% female partners by 2029

Hodgkinson: If you’re ready, PQE is not so important

National law firm TLT has said that it is “confident” that it will reach its target of having equal numbers of male and female partners in five years’ time.

Helen Hodgkinson, chief people officer at TLT, said one of the ways it would be achieved was by the firm, where currently 35% of its 150+ partners are female, putting less reliance on post-qualification experience (PQE).

TLT reached its previous target of having at least 33% female partners last summer – two years ahead of target.

However, Ms Hodgkinson said the difference between the partnership and the other solicitors at the firm, 67% of whom are female, was “stark”. Seven out of 10 of the law firm’s 1,400 staff in total are female.

One way of increasing female representation at partnership level was “by looking at potential not PQE”.

She went on: “You don’t have to clock up a certain number of years of PQE to be considered. If you are ready earlier, that is fine.

“If you are choosing to use PQE as indicative, then you are disadvantaging those with a certain career path. We’re putting our trust in competence and outcomes rather than time in the role.”

Ms Hodgkinson said the firm had done research comparing the career trajectories of male and female solicitors at the firm, with women “losing equalisation” at child-bearing age and on maternity leave.

Another way of increasing female representation in the firm was by having a genuinely flexible working policy.

“Anyone who orders their staff back to the office is going to lose their E,D and I [equality, diversity and inclusion]. We promote flexibility but we also actually do it, making women vote with their feet.”

Ms Hodgkinson said the firm also promoted flexibility through its “fully flexible offices”, which were “designated to make sure you meet people” when you arrived at work.

Promoting the “women’s health agenda” was another way the firm retained female staff. TLT launched a free menopause diagnosis service for female staff a year ago.

“Women’s health needs are different to men at every stage of their career. If you don’t design a system that supports them, you will lose women.”

Ms Hodgkinson said she was “not sure there were” any male solicitors at the firm who thought equalisation was unfair.

“The conversation has totally changed. There is an understanding that everyone is equally ambitious. If a system is getting in the way, it is right to remove it.”

She said the firm’s approach to flexible working was appreciated by all staff, irrespective of gender or background. The message for older female solicitors, who might feel they had been passed over for promotion to partners, was that “it is never too late”.

To address the firm’s “uncomfortable” lack of ethnic minority representation at senior levels, TLT set a target at the end of last year to increase the proportion of ethnic minority trainees and apprentices from 20% to 35% by 2030.

Across the law firm’s offices, 80% of staff are White and 16% from ethnic minority backgrounds, with 4% preferring not to say.

Ms Hodgkinson said its 50% target for female partners was “progressive” rather than “ambitious”. Two-thirds of TLT’s partner promotions in the last three years were women, as were 60% of lateral hires in the last 12 months.

She added that she would “love to think” that the firm could hit the 50% target early, and there was “nothing in the current statistics” to suggest otherwise.

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