Female partners on the rise at major law and accounting firms but still well below 50 per cent

New Zealand’s major professional services firms are still struggling to reach gender parityat the partnership level despite a major push in recent years to bring women through into their senior ranks.

Partners at law and accounting firms are the most senior members of staff and can earn money through either an equity share of the business’ profits or as a salaried partner.

But research by the Herald in the lead-up to International Women’s Day today has found New Zealand’s top four accounting firms and six largest legal firms still have fewer than half of their partnership ranks filled by women.

The four accounting firms have more partners in total but a lower percentage of women partners than law firms with the lowest – PwC – only having 20 per cent of its partnership ranks made up of women – even after appointing seven new women partners in recent weeks.

PwC chief executive Mark Averill said it was very mindful of diversity and it was a challenge the big four accounting firms were focused on improving.

He said it was pleased with its recent partner appointments in which seven out of 12 were women and pointed to the broader profile of the firm.

“Up to director level we are 50-50. We then get to the director level and that is around 30 per cent, maybe a third. For us a lot of our initiatives, a lot of our focus is how do we provide opportunities for more females to come through into that director and partner roles therefore you change the stats, percentages.”

Averill said it was trying to build on its senior pipeline by creating a strong culture around an inclusive environment with a particular focus on embracing flexible working.

“That is something we have made significant progress on over the last 12 months assisted by Covid. The fact that we have got the technology in place, we have proven the model works, there’s people feeling more comfortable [with it].”

It had also moved to new offices, which meant partners no longer had their own office space and were in an open-plan environment.

“For us, creating the right emphasis around physical environment, acceptance of flexible working, is going to help us continue changing at the more senior end.”

Deloitte, which has the same number of total partners as PwC has 24 per cent women in partnership roles and has boosted that from 10 per cent in 2013.

Sonia Breeze, Deloitte partner and human capital consulting practice leader, said Deloitte had set ambitious goals with regard to gender balance across its global network and locally advancement of women at all levels was a company-wide priority.

“In the last five years alone, we have more than doubled our female partners to 32 and our board representation has increased from 14 per cent to 41 per cent in the same time.”

Breeze said Deloitte New Zealand reported quarterly to its board and management on key diversity and inclusion indicators including gender pay gap, attrition and recruitment by gender, promotions by gender, its talent pipeline progress and gender composition across all levels.

“In the past five years we have also designed and implemented a bespoke Woman in Leadership programme to help support and foster talent within our firm, and focused our recruitment on ensuring we present a balanced gender scorecard at each stage of the recruitment process.”

The six major law firms all sit between 29 per cent and 33 per cent when its comes to their women partners.

MinterEllisonRuddWatts, which has the highest at 33 per cent, has increased its percentage from 27 per cent in 2012.

About 68 per cent of its senior lawyers are women and 40 per cent of its board, including chair Sarah Sinclair.

MinterEllison media and communications manager Virginia Cassidy said it was proud of achievements to date but acknowledged it had more work to do.

“We have recently reviewed our partner succession and admission processes to create opportunities for our board to set clear guidelines for gender diversity at the partnership level and timing for promotion.”

Buddle Findlay has the lowest, at 29 per cent.

Lucy Ryan, people and culture director at Buddle Findlay said female leadership and supporting women to progress to partnership were ongoing focuses for the firm.

“In the last five years, 70 per cent of the partners who have been promoted have been female. This year, 76 per cent of senior promotions announced were female. In 2019 and 2020, we committed to intensive leadership training for all our partners and we continue to grow our female leadership through a range of career development and one-on-one coaching opportunities.”

It senior leadership team was 50 per cent women while 63 per cent of senior associates were made up of women.

Female partners at major professional services firms

Name of firm: Total number of partners, Percentage women partners

The big four accounting firms
PwC: 135,20%
Deloitte:135 24%
KPMG: 84, 24%
EY: (Did not respond by deadline)

NZ’s major law firms
Chapman Tripp: 55, 31%
MinterEllisonRuddWatts: 48, 33%
Buddle Findlay: 45,29%
Bell Gully 44: 29.5%
Simpson Grierson: 41, 32%
Russell McVeagh: 38,32%

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