Today, nationwide, women are taking to the streets calling for living conditions and opportunities guaranteeing true equality in paid and unpaid work. The last such strike happened on 14 June 1991, 10 years after equality between man and woman was enshrined in the Swiss constitution.
The demands today remain largely the same as they were nearly 30 years ago. Though the strike was announced a year ago by the trade unions and left-wing parties, several women's business associations together with liberal parties have now also joined forces with the organisers and called upon their members to march for equality. We at Froriep would also like to see certain improvements in both the professional sphere and regarding more equal sharing of child care. On this occasion Froriep takes the opportunity to reflect on the poor representation of women at partnership level amongst the leading Swiss law firms.
Women at partnership level in Swiss commercial law firms
The third ranking of Swiss law firms published by BILANZ and Le Temps earlier this spring not only listed the best firms in various disciplines, it also revealed an unfortunate reality: female partners amongst the big commercial law firms are still a rare find. Of the nine biggest Swiss firms listed, the “best” one leads with 16% female representation amongst its leadership. None of the big firms (between 33 and 78 partners) counts more than nine women at partnership level. Over several pages BILANZ and Le Temps attempt to analyse the reasons why there are so few women and show different measures taken to motivate and promote women into partnership. Sadly, the underlying message is a dated one: women are primarily responsible for child and family care and hence struggle to combine work and family life. The deafening silence in the article is the absence of either women without family or men’s share in family duties. It is high time we separate women’s private life from their professional careers. Law firms must create equal opportunities and must therefore also put in place fair selection criteria for men and women to become partners.
One third female partners at Froriep
Froriep would be a winner in the race for the Swiss commercial law firm with the most women at partnership level: Froriep counts 29% female partners amongst its five offices in Switzerland and abroad. Froriep not only is an example of a diverse law firm today, it also has a remarkable history: founded in 1966 Froriep was the first major commercial law firm in Switzerland to elect a woman (Claudia Kälin-Nauer) as partner in 1985. It is also the first firm to have appointed a woman (Catrina Luchsinger Gähwiler) as managing partner, as well as the first to have a female successor to a female managing partner. Besides the current managing partner Nicola Benz, two other offices are led by women, Dunja Koch (London) and Isabelle Romy (Zurich), which results in a majority of three women out of five managing partners. Today Froriep counts twenty-six women in a total of sixty-two lawyers and seven in twenty-four partners.
What did Froriep do to achieve this result?
Froriep has no formal guidelines to promote women into partnership. There are, however, role models and supporters of women in partnership positions. While employees (men and women) are offered the possibility to work part-time or flexible hours, Froriep is a law firm where performance and competence are the primary reasons for success. At the same time Froriep believes in a work-life-balance and aims at being flexible enough to accommodate individual arrangements, be it regarding religion, family or extra-curricular activities of its employees. This result is obviously not only the achievement of Froriep: In order to juggle professional life and a private life that involves childcare, every professional parent needs support outside the workplace.
What can law firms do to make partnership more attractive for women?
In order to achieve a higher number of women at partnership level, law firms need to let female junior associates develop into senior associates in order to get onto the partnership track. Law firms must offer their employees equal opportunity and equal selection criteria to become partners. This could include flexibility regarding maternity and paternity leave and flexible working hours in the early stages of parenthood. But again, it is not only a question of what an employer offers. The accessibility and flexibility of childcare institutions, as well as society in general influence a woman’s choice of combining parenthood and partnership.
Decoupling woman from childcare
It is long overdue that we decouple child and family care from women and that instead we see part-time work for a certain period in a lawyer’s life as an option for either or both sexes. Once society recognises that raising a family concerns both parents, it will no longer be beholden to any law firm to promote women to become partners. But until this change of mindset has come about, Froriep will continue to serve as an example that women with one or more children and women without children can be partners. For it is their competence, their performance and their innovative and entrepreneurial skills that qualify them.