IBA Women Lawyers’ Committee Mentorship Toolkit launched to close gender gap in the legal profession

Friday 23 September 2022

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The International Bar Association (IBA) has launched the Women Lawyers' Committee: Mentorship Toolkit (the Toolkit) with the aim of empowering female legal professionals and addressing the gender representation gap at senior levels. With global organisations revealing the business case to address gender disparity, the Toolkit is launched into an environment where there has been an increased focus and shift in perspective on gender equality. Closing the gap is now recognised not just as ‘the right thing to do’, but also ‘the smart thing to do’.

Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that gender disparity in world societies and labour markets has a US$12tn impact on the global economy. This is equivalent to 16 per cent of global gross domestic product. Furthermore, media reports have revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater negative impact on working women than men; women have disproportionately lost jobs and faced a reduction in their working hours while time spent on childcare and household responsibilities has increased.

Lise Lotte Hjerrild, Chair of the IBA Women Lawyers’ Committee (IBA WLC), stated: ‘Steadfast commitment is required to achieving the goal of gender, and opportunity, parity, but it is not an insurmountable task. Our new Toolkit provides all the guidance necessary to start a mentorship programme at an organisation’s own pace on its path to true equality, but diversity policies need to be taught and integrated throughout the organisation to be a success. Our goal at the IBA WLC is to help level out the playing field in the legal profession. The Toolkit will help with this ambition, aiding both mentees and mentors in the process and benefitting a firm in its entirety. The IBA WLC urges firms to make use of this Toolkit to empower their female employees.’

Divided into four sections, the Toolkit provides detailed guidance for law firms on how to get started with a mentorship programme. Key advice from the Toolkit includes:

  • Create a mentorship committee: Firms should have a committee in place that will follow up on the design, execution, results and analysis of the programme and to which participants can appeal;
  • Set a clear structure: Defining the core elements of the programme, such as the number of sessions required, the frequency and length of meetings and how many pairs will join is key to success;
  • Match mentors and mentees carefully: Both mentors and mentees should be subject to an application process to assess their suitability for the programme. Mentees should not be in a direct subordinate relationship to mentors and should not be part of the same practice group; and
  • Prepare topics for discussion in advance: Provide reading and/or video materials for both mentors and mentees to prepare for each session. Topics for discussion could include: client management, being part of a team, unconscious bias, diversity and managing working life as a parent.

As research into gender disparity mounts, a report published by the global management consulting firm McKinsey revealed the gender gap is wider in law firms than in other industries and that women are relatively well represented in the professional pipeline until the equity partner level, where women’s representation drops sharply.

Ursula Ben-Hammou, Mentorship Officer of the IBA WLC and Toolkit lead, commented: ‘Change starts from the top. If a law firm’s management is not fully aligned with the process, no programme or policy will ever translate into real change. We need, as a profession, to take the gender gap seriously and not just implement diversity policies out of a sense of “pink washing”. It is not only our duty, but the right business move, going forward. We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We had been thinking hard about a way to collaborate on this titanic and crucial duty, and wanted to offer something tangible for our members, something they could implement at their firms. Something that can, and will, with true commitment make a difference. The Toolkit has been created for this purpose.’

Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that mentoring programmes boosted minority representation at the management level by nine per cent to 24 per cent, a higher rate of increase compared to other diversity initiatives. The same study found that mentoring programmes also dramatically improved promotion and retention rates for minorities and women from 15 per cent to 38 per cent when compared to non-mentored employees.

The IBA Women Lawyers' Committee: Mentorship Toolkit provides firms that may not have the resources to put together a mentoring programme to have a baseline. The Toolkit is detailed enough for firms to use by themselves, without the need for further external consultation and general enough that it will work across continents despite cultural differences. IBA members, human resources professionals and diversity consultants around the world were consulted in the creation of the Toolkit, providing experiences of what has and, equally important, has not worked. Participants at the IBA’s 9th World Women Lawyers’ Conference, which took place in Denmark from 11-13 September 2022, received advance access to the Toolkit.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to download a PDF of the Women Lawyers' Committee: Mentorship Toolkit.
  2. The IBA Women Lawyers’ Committee (WLC) aspires to empower its 3000 highly valued members from all over the world to engage, network and share knowledge. The committee was originally an interest group which was introduced as an IBA constituent in 1996 to allow efficient global networking of women lawyers. WLC aims to level the playing field in the legal profession and inspire leaders to work to achieve gender parity. It's 20 committee officers create awareness tools to help the profession achieve this goal, while at the same time facilitate an efficient global network for women lawyers to connect and develop business and expertise.
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  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

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