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Lerisha Naidu says she is a perpetual student who loves interacting with people.
Lerisha Naidu says she is a perpetual student who loves interacting with people.

In this edition of Business Law Focus, host Evan Pickwoth interviews Lerisha (Lee) Naidu, who has been appointed managing partner of Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg as from July 1. With transformation of the legal sector high on the agenda, they discuss how gender gaps can be overcome in the profession.

The context

It is clear that the legal sector is characterised by gender gaps in relation to leadership positions, career progression and pay. Of course, these challenges should not be overcome by tokenising female staff without ensuring genuinely inclusive cultures that ensure retention, including access to opportunities, fair measurement of performance and internal policy reform that enable women to combine family and work.

Real inclusion helps to overcome both the measurable and the less tangible challenges that women face in the legal sector.

Business Day law and tax editor Evan Pickworth. Picture: REBECCA HEARFIELD
Business Day law and tax editor Evan Pickworth. Picture: REBECCA HEARFIELD

Of course, it is also important to take an intersectional approach to the inclusion project, factoring in all important aspects of identity, as well as socioeconomic factors, in developing inclusion strategies.

As part of the Baker McKenzie's Diversity & Inclusion initiative, the firm has set aspirational, measurable targets for gender, that focus on increasing female representation in partner and leadership roles. The firm announced in 2019 that it had set new global aspirational targets in terms of a “40:40:20” gender ratio: 40% women, 40% men and 20% flexible (women, men or nonbinary persons). This target applies to partners, senior business professionals, firm committee leadership and candidate pools for recruitment. Globally, nearly 40% of the firm’s 3,800 lawyers are women. 

In SA, about 61% of the firm’s staff is female. To empower female leaders, the firm also has an intensive mentorship programme to support and help female lawyers rise through the ranks, so that they can take up leadership positions in the future.

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