As we release our fifth annual New Partner Report this week we are pleased to see that the percentage of women promoted to partnership in major U.S. law firms is continuing to steadily increase. This year, we found that 37.3 percent of new partners were women, up from 34 percent last year and 33 percent in 2014. We are even more pleased and proud that our member firms are outpacing the national average with 38.3 percent of new partners being women. As the National Association for Legal Placement (NALP) reported in 2015 the total percentage of women partners is 21.46 percent, so these incoming classes are clearly going to increase the overall numbers of women in firm leadership.

While we are optimistic that major law firms might one day have an even balance of men and women in their partnership and leadership ranks, the industry still has a long way to go. Research shows us that there is still some work to be done before firms retain as many women as they do men over the years. Remember, according to NALP, 48 percent of graduating law school students are women and 44.68 percent of law firm associates are women, so we need to understand why these percentages are dropping to 21.46 at the partner level and 37.3 in terms of partner promotions.

Firms Need to Continue to Support Young Women Associates

It is our hope that by keeping an eye on these metrics we can help law firms to understand where and when they are losing valuable women attorneys and what they may be able to do to retain more women and promote them to the partner level. It’s important for firms to understand that these data points don’t change over night and they must clearly invest in women attorneys from day one. Firms should monitor the female attorneys in the “pipeline” and make sure they are providing them with the same support system and mentors, access to training, and giving them opportunities that advance their careers as male attorneys. Addressing unconscious bias is also a key to creating inclusive environments where everyone can thrive.

Consider How Flexible Work Options Can Impact Women In Leadership

We also strongly believe that an effective flexible work policy available to everyone has an impact on a firm’s ability to retain women and men. Keep in mind that while women do utilize flex policies, the policy must be available to both women and men of all backgrounds and without regard to reason. By exploring the connection between diversity and flexibility, firms will be able to understand whether women are leaving or not advancing to partner at the same rate as men because the culture of the firm penalizes attorneys working flexibly and impacts their chances of being promoted to partner.

Learn more about the Alliance and let us know how we can help you maintain a diverse and effective team.