Quotas are the solution for women being held back by structural inequality at partner level, argues First 100 Years founder

updated on 25 February 2019

Law firms need to introduce quotas to make the representation of women at partner and management level more equal after “years of talking” about diversity have failed to effect real change, the founder of The First 100 Years project has said.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the project which celebrates the first 100 years of women working in the legal profession and a former solicitor at Linklaters, said that quotas are needed to overcome the structural inequalities that hold women back from achieving senior positions in equal numbers to men. She also took aim at firms’ use of “rigid and inflexible” salaried partnership structures.

As Legal Futures reports, Denis-Smith believes that asking firms to regulate themselves will not deliver equality. She said: “One hundred years ago, the battle was for participation in our legal system. That battle has been won, with more women than men now entering the profession. What we now need is to see equal numbers of men and women in leadership positions, receiving the same remuneration...

 “I have come to the belief that quotas are necessary. Self-regulation doesn’t work and will only take us so far. What we have learnt from history is that change sometimes needs to be forced. There are many firms and chambers out there who recognise the importance of diversity but are hampered by industrial levels of inflexibility.

“The reality is that our workplaces can be incredibly rigid, inflexible and artificial places that don’t reflect our real lives. We need to start from the top, unravelling the practices and structures that do not work for women and increasingly, many men. We need to interrogate working conditions to see if they are fit for purpose rather than the expectation being that women should fit into them.”