A study investigating the advancement of female solicitors in England : exploring the promotion to partner level process, challenges and opportunities.

Ikiriko, Elizabeth Oruene (2018) A study investigating the advancement of female solicitors in England : exploring the promotion to partner level process, challenges and opportunities. PhD thesis, University of Bolton.


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The disparity in the number of male and female partners within law firms is a problem that has been present within the legal profession in England. As of July 2017, female partners constituted 33% as against 67% of male partners. Previous studies on gendered marginalization within the profession focused mostly on large/global law firms to the exclusion of small and medium firms where the majority of solicitors practice. Three theoretical frameworks (Preference Theory, Role Congruity theory and Social Constructionist theory) underpinned this empirical study. This research investigated the promotion to partner processes in two large, three medium and two small law firms in England with the aim of identifying the cause of the problem. The research was conducted using a qualitative approach with an interpretive paradigm. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews with five partners, a Sole Practitioner, a Human Resource Director, fifteen females and thirteen male solicitors were undertaken. The data was recorded verbatim using an audio- cassette recorder, then transcribed and thematically analysed with an inductive approach. Three main themes (ambition, work culture and promotion process) were identified coupled with several sub-themes. Findings confirm a lack of female -gender identity within all sizes of firms and the prevalence of male-oriented social constructs and stereotypes. In medium and large firms, female solicitors experienced minimal support from management in mentoring, case- allocation, remunerations, and support for female returnees after childbirth. In addition, male-oriented promotion processes coupled with poor knowledge management and an inadequate communication about the promotion models were found. A culture of silence exists across all firms together with a high rate of attrition about promotion to partner prospects among females. Poor well-being among solicitors and partners due to pressure of work was another finding of this study. Women, BAME and LGBT solicitors across all firms exhibited distrust and apathy towards equality and diversity initiatives. The recommendations made as researcher’s contribution to knowledge include a recognition of multi-gender trajectories and changes in work culture in all law firms, 4 compulsory membership of the Diversity Monitoring Scheme, the imposition of sanctions for non-compliance, introduction of partnership quotas for male and female solicitors in medium and large firms and an amendment of Section 78(2)(a) of the Equality Act, 2010 relating to equal pay. Compulsory incorporation of Equality and Diversity principles into continuous development programmes for management and practitioners and the appointment of Welfare officers alongside COLPS was recommended. Aspiring female solicitors should be more assertive and engage in self-help strategies for better selection opportunities. Further contribution by this researcher to existing knowledge includes the recommendation of a fair model of promotions to Partnerships in Medium and Large firms. The model that includes a clear written promotion criteria accessible to all, periodic six -monthly secondment of all partnership aspirants to serving partners for equal mentoring opportunities regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, age and disability. A model including quarterly workshops for such practitioners to enhance their human and cultural capital was proposed also.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: An electronic version of the thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Bolton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Divisions: University of Bolton Theses > Law
University of Bolton Theses > Business
Depositing User: Tracey Gill
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2019 14:06
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2019 15:36
URI: http://ubir.bolton.ac.uk/id/eprint/2111

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