For the first time as part of the annual ranking of Africa’s largest law firms by headcount, Africa Legal and Law.com International asked firms to share data on the gender diversity of their partnerships. The response, and the data, is compelling.
ALM Intelligence, the research division of ALM (owners of Law.com International), mark the current average percentage of female partners within the top 30 UK firms by headcount at 27%, and the average across the New York Law Journal top 350 firms as 26%. These are poor numbers considering that in both the US and UK women make up the majority of law graduates entering the profession.
So what is the percentage for the top African firms?
Data from the 32 Top 50 firms which voluntarily supplied their gender diversity stats, shows that the average is a comparatively positive 35%. Just five firms in the Africa Top 50 report a lower diversity level than the “benchmark” of 27% set by UK firms.
Although the African firms must be acknowledged for the way in which they are outpacing other international markets in this respect, this is not a time for back-slapping or complacency. There are a myriad reasons why gender imbalance at the top end of the profession remains so skewed, none of them justifiable or insurmountable.
Just two of the Africa Top-50 firms have attained gender parity within their partnerships. South Africa-based Fairbridges Wertheim & Becker’s partnership ratio sits at 50% female, and FBL Advogados in Angola stands as the only firm with more female partners than male – 63% of their partners are women.
To preempt any claims that gender parity is more easily maintained at smaller firms, one need look no further than Nigerian and South African giants Aluko Oyebode and Webber Wentzel who record female lawyers as holding 47.37% and 44.81% of their partnerships respectively.
Turning to look at the international vs home-grown African firm nuances, it is worth noting that nine of the top ten ranked firms, by diversity, are entirely African by origin and operation, with DLA Piper Africa the sole international presence in the top ten.
On a jurisdictional footing, the top ten firms based on diversity score are mostly South African (four) with Nigeria coming in second (three).
Commenting further on these findings, Africa Legal’s Chief Operating Officer, Wendy Bampton, said, “We are delighted to see Africa lead the globe, with both smaller and larger firms recognising the importance of gender parity at the partner level to enable greater success in the law and in business. Well done to all of those leading the way, and thank you for the increased openness being demonstrated as we launch the third Africa Top 50.”
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