Clyde & Co plans radical overhaul of diversity programme

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By Katie King on

City firm wants to shake off ‘old boys club’ reputation but Charlotte Proudman isn’t convinced


City law firm Clyde & Co is set to tackle the root causes of inequality in the profession by totally overhauling its diversity programme.

In an attempt to shake off its ‘old boys club’ reputation, Pauline Caldwell, global HR director at the firm, is in the process of reviewing the firm’s diversity and inclusion schemes. She aims to present the board with a new scheme in January.

But Mansfield Chambers’ barrister and feminist campaigner Charlotte Proudman was cynical. She said only quotas would do.

The legal profession has come under increasing pressure in recent years to improve its social representation. Though law firms are considerably more diverse than the bar and the judiciary, the current figures leave a lot to be desired.

Clyde & Co — which specialises in shipping and insurance law — is demonstrably progressive. It is one of the few City firms to offer a school leavers’ apprenticeship programme, which Caldwell explains is:

[M]ore focused on recruiting people from different backgrounds rather than gender diversity.

The firm’s percentage of BME partners is representative of the general population figure at 14%.

The problems lie in Clyde & Co’s gender demography. With 51% of associate positions filled by women, gender diversity at the recruitment stage is not contentious. However, as Caldwell explains, gender does become an issue at the more senior levels. Only 19% of Clyde & Co’s partners are women.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the firm has already begun to take action on these dismal results. The firm — which has 45 offices across the globe — has piloted a senior leadership programme in the UK. Of the eight participants, six are women.

But more needs to be done, and Caldwell knows this:

We’re looking at what are the one or two good things we need to do for the next year that will really make a difference to our gender and diversity intake.

We applaud Clyde & Co for their commendable statement of intent — but details are still very thin on the ground. Legal Cheek asked the firm for more information about how they aim to combat inequality in the profession, with particular focus on whether the introduction of targets or quotas is in the pipeline, but they declined to comment.

Well-meaning pronouncements of pro-diversity initiatives have long echoed across the profession, though little, if anything at all, has improved in the last five years.

Proudman told Legal Cheek that:

While the scheme is a welcomed step to achieving gender parity, it is important to point out that such schemes should not focus on teaching women to lean in or behave more like men. Gender inequality is not a reflection of women’s inadequacy, it is a reflection of male power.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she believes that more needs to be done in the fight for gender equality, continuing:

Only quotas for women will ensure absolutely equality. If you believe in gender equality then there can be no justification for supporting anything less.

Time alone will tell whether Clyde & Co’s pro-diversity objectives will have a positive effect or fall on deaf ears.