In India Inc too, women lawyers setting new bar

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Published: March 6, 2016 12:22:04 AM

There has been a steady rise in the hiring of women lawyers in corporate India—from 12.5% in 2010 to 17.34% in 2015

If recent hiring activity data are anything to go by, this could be the best of times for women lawyers to make a mark in corporate India, as companies have been aggressively pushing to close the gender gap and improve diversity in the past few years.

As per Vahura, a recruitment firm that specialises in legal talent, up to 60% of lawyers hired in the financial services industry last year were women. Besides financial services, IT (40%) and energy (35%) have been found to be the other two sectors that are hiring more women in their legal teams. In general, there has been a steady rise in women lawyers’ listing in India—from 12.5% in 2010 to 17.34% in 2015, as per UK-based Chambers & Partners, which ranks lawyers and law firms.

“Companies, as a whole, are aggressively pushing to close the gender gap and improve diversity. This change in hiring strategy can be seen in recruitment for legal experts as well,” says Trupti Kulkarni, head of internal systems, Vahura. Women lawyers adapt better and faster in the corporate world, explains Kulkarni. “They have a natural temperament and disposition to adjust to the corporate culture and have a detail-oriented approach. This is helpful when assessing legal issues/risks. Their intuitive approach is particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with contractual and employee-related issues,” she adds.

Besides corporate India’s focus on improving the diversity ratio, disparity in pay—or rather the absence of it—seems to be another prime reason driving women lawyers to join companies. As per Vahura, which regularly tracks the average pay rises when professionals shift jobs, women lawyers on an average received a 29.80% hike as compared to male lawyers, who received an average hike of 35.31% last year.

Women lawyers with 11-15 years’ work experience got hikes similar to their male counterparts. “In every other experience bracket, women got only a marginally lower percentage hike as compared to their male counterparts,” adds Balanand Menon, head of consulting, Vahura.

Dee Sekar, a UK-qualified solicitor, corporate counsel and global diversity editor at Chambers & Partners, too, sees less of a pay gap in corporate firms compared to law firms, “where there is much more of a male-centric atmosphere and pay inequality between men and women”, she says, adding, “The traditional law firm structure is not conducive to those who require flexible working arrangements.

Women struggle to advance in their careers when they return to work after maternity leave. It is for this reason that moving into an inhouse role might seem like an attractive option for women, as corporations tend to offer more flexible work options and support,” she adds.

Sekar, who is of Indian origin, feels the demand for Indian women lawyers is on a rise globally as well.

“Most law firms have international clients and I have seen a huge demand for (Indian) women lawyers from US and Latin-American clients. The growing presence of international firms in India will also help in increasing this demand,” she says. Realising their importance, Indian law firms are also taking steps to retain female lawyers. For instance, the erstwhile Amarchand Mangaldas—the largest law firm in India before it split into two different law firms in May last year—had a 45:55 gender ratio across the board. It also has a crèche since December 2009. “The centre had the capacity to look after 15 children aged between the ages of six months and eight years. Along with two teachers to keep the children engaged throughout the day, they also had a nurse for medical assistance. This definitely sets a very high standard and positive example for the rest of the profession,” says Sekar.

In recent years, demand has grown for women lawyers in the technology space in India. “However, they are mostly in the mid-manager-level roles and not many make it to the general counsel and senior vice-president levels,” laments Sekar.

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