Kirsty Wilson, Partner and Global Executive Committee Member Baker McKenzie, in conversation with Tara Cemlyn-Jones on Pathway to Partner and setting targets

 by 25×25 team

Why did Baker McKenzie join 25×25?

25×25 is an organization [which is] very important for Baker Mackenzie to be a part of it. It’s all about teamwork, the reason for being part of 25×25.

In order to bring about change, you need teamwork. And as a law firm, and in professional services, we shouldn’t just be focusing on the issues of improving our diversity and inclusion by working within our own profession. And an organization such as 25×25, which is bringing about change and bringing people together through different businesses across society, is really important because you don’t just learn from sharing the issues and the problems that you have, but there’s a real benefit to sharing the solutions.

And so, the vantage point that 25×25 gives, I think is really important for all of us in terms of, enhancing, and moving forward with, improving the representation of, women in senior roles in professional services. And I would probably also add as well that being involved in organizations that are, include professional services and the wider business community, helps with that point as well to understand what our clients are also concerned about and what our clients are doing. And being close to our clients is very important for our business as well. So those insights are an added bonus from being part of 25×25.

Baker McKenzie was the first global law firm to have a female chair. How did that happen?

Christine Lagarde, now of the European Central Bank. She started at Baker Mackenzie, as an employment lawyer in Paris, and she was our chair in the early 2000s for five or six years. So, we are very proud of Christine both during her time here and obviously for her stellar career after her time at Baker McKenzie. And [she was] a very early champion of everything that an inclusive and a diverse law firm should be.

How did you achieve gender balance at Exco?

So, our global executive committee is made up of eight partners and then our chief executive role, so our Chief People Officer, CFO, COO. And what has driven us to ensure that we have balance in our executive committee is the use of targets, our global aspirational targets. We set those back in 2019 and our aim in our target is to have 40:40:20.

And as of October last year, we reached that balance with our executive committee, which is a very good step forward. It’s also important, we all use the phrase, we must lead from the top. And I think in terms of bringing that balance across all of our committees and all of our leadership roles, being able to say, okay, that’s one committee, an important committee, that we’ve achieved that in. It’s a start. It’s not the end of the journey. It’s not the end of the work we need to do, but it’s been a very positive achievement in terms of being able to say, this is achievable. We can do this, and we can work our way through the challenges of getting ourselves to better balance in terms of representation across the firm.

Can you explain how your 40:40:20 target works?

Yes, so our global aspirational target of 40:40:20 is that our senior leadership positions, both for the fee earners, also for our senior business professionals as well, should be, 40% male, 40% female and then the 20% is flexible.

So that can be male, female, or those that prefer not to state. So, it really is bringing a flexibility to it so that you can have 60:40, and it’s not that bright line of 50:50 and I think the 40:40:20 encapsulates flexibility rather than the 50:50 approach. So, it seems to be working quite well as a target to be aiming for and then implementing.

What does your pipeline currently look like?

So, when we look at the pipeline for senior talent, we all have to be honest. That pipeline has leaks in it. It’s always had leaks in it. We might be plugging some of those leaks. But we really do have to work on ensuring that many more of our talented female professionals continue their journey all the way through, either with Baker Mackenzie, or more widely in the profession.

The talent pool that we have coming into law firms is there, but the challenge is how we support and nurture and bring about change all the way through so that we’re seeing the talent that is coming in on day one, is still there in the 10, 20, 30 years later.

What are some of the challenges which the legal profession faces?

One of the biggest things that has struck me over the years is that law always saw itself as a time-served environment. I used this sort of, metaphor of the escalator that you always used to describe yourself as, I’m two years post qualification, I’m five years. So, the profession has grown up with this inbuilt, ingrained, attitude of: It’s the number of years that you spend, or it’s the number of hours that you bill. So, there’s this metric, I very much feel that it has shaped the profession over the years.

And, you can see the changes where more of a qualitative approach to people’s performance is absolutely coming in. But we’ve got work to do, and I do hope that we move away from those statements that you used to hear around, well, they’ve spent an extra year doing this, so they’ll be a better lawyer.

Other challenges, therefore, that come out of that, maternity leave is a great example of how it’s not a straight line and sometimes you need that time to go left, to go right, to pause. And with all of that, I would say that the other big concept that I think is important is flexibility. And it’s not just a gender issue. Is that around different working practices we all need different things at different stages in our life. And there’s definitely more of a focus on it, even from before Covid, we had our flexible working policy [which] is known as Be Agile.

But there’s always work to do in this area. You can’t just have a policy. People have to know that you won’t be penalised for asking for it, that your career won’t suffer, that you will be supported through it. And so, I feel the flexibility is something that we all need to continue to work on, both as individuals and as an organisation.

I think we can all see that in times of uncertainty and downturn, underrepresented groups are more adversely affected. That is unfortunately one of the things about society and it plays out in the business environment as well. And, looking at caring responsibilities, what is happening in the dynamics in the home, in, in all of our homes and how that’s got moving forward is really important. So, there’s definitely an extra focus that’s needed post pandemic.

So, there’s a range of different challenges and, and perhaps one thing that has struck me in, the last few months, and I have a role where I’m privileged to speak to many people in different offices around Europe and around the world, is that I wonder if the flexibility discussion has moved away a little bit from flexibility of, hours, of days, of different stages of our career, to more focusing on the hybrid situation of just flexibility around whether or not you do your work in the office or you do your work at home.

And I do, wonder and perhaps worry a little that we’ve then, we’re then asking people to do five days work at home, rather than actually having a wider conversation about do we actually need to adjust overall hours? And, and I feel that perhaps many of us are doing a little bit too much in the time that should be a time [for us] rather than time for, our employer and our business.

What does the Pathway to CEO/Partner at Baker McKenzie look like?

So, our executive committee is made up of eight partners, a chair that is elected by all of the principals in the firm, all of the partners, and then representatives from the different regions. And we have a nomination procedure, or process for those other roles. And so, all principals in the firm are eligible to stand for that. You don’t necessarily have to have done a specific role beforehand, but clearly those that have done other leadership roles and to use your, the language of service line, which might relate more to a corporate, sometimes people have been practice group leads, so they may have been, the leader of mergers and acquisitions globally, they may have been the disputes lead.

So, we come at these roles from different backgrounds, and part of the nomination and appointment and election procedure is that we have a review, a nominating committee, that are looking at these different skills and also trying to build a committee that not just takes diversity from a gender perspective but takes diversity from experience as well.

So, there’s not a checklist of what people are looking for or how you must have this or that experience beforehand, but it’s trying to build that up and nobody has every qualification for these different roles.

Is the Succession and Talent Planning Process transparent?

Over the years, one of the biggest criticisms you hear within law firms is that it’s not a transparent process.

Are you just tapped on a shoulder? How does it work? And that has been a point that I’m absolutely sure 20 years ago I was going: “how do I make it to partner?” I didn’t know back in those days.

So I think that is something that the profession has to continue to work on is a clearer pathway, working together, collaboratively as to how we support, develop and collectively nurture our talent on that, pathway to partnership. And that’s whichever gender you are, I think that’s really important and something that the law firms need to continue to work on.

So, the role of the talent team in an organisation and the procedures that are in place and the processes, to me, that’s a fundamental part of how we make this journey, to partner, to promotion, to progress wherever people want to take their careers, better for all. So that’s a really key part of it, and it is good to see a lot of the developments that have been made. So, some of the things that I think are very strong, in relation to this, are having an active talent pipeline.

What advice would you give to younger people coming through?

One of the things that has stuck with me and I try to pass on in conversations with our current teams is that it’s good occasionally to question, what you’re doing and is this for you. And, are there things and changes that you can make? So sometimes, when discussing things with colleagues, people are surprised when I say, “oh yeah, I’ve had a go at resigning a couple of times to managing partners over the years.”

And people look at you surprised to say, really? Would you have done that? Yes. Because it’s really healthy to question, to step back to look at things. And also, the profession is changing. It’s come a long way in 30 years, it’s not come as far as it probably should have. But I’m really hopeful that you can see more and more momentum and more of an understanding in the industry that inclusion, the need for equity and belonging for all, is coming much more to the heart of organizations and that it’s not a checklist on the side.

And I think that’s very important, for us as a business, but more importantly for us as individuals to feel as if, these are the types of organizations that we want to be a part of.


Show leadership

Join us in this collective endeavour