For some time, Totum has seen more women making headway at leadership levels in business services functions in law. But we are delighted to now be able to put some figures behind what we know from our experience of working with talented business women in the legal sector. These show that more women are being shortlisted and placed at law firms, and in more senior roles. At Totum, we focus on business services teams in law. This includes roles across all levels of seniority in BD & marketing, HR, IT and finance functions, as well as other cross-functional roles in areas like project and process management, innovation and change. A fair bit of our work and time is spent on ‘retained’ projects – this is where a law firm exclusively selects Totum to work on a particular role or roles. These projects are conducted on a retained basis, because they tend to be more complex and difficult to source – they are generally, therefore, more senior.

Our findings

We conducted research into the retained projects we’ve worked on over the past three years – since 2015. In this time, our retained work distribution split across roles as follows: Director (45%), Head of (28%), COO/CEO/CFO type roles (20%), and other (7%). As you can see, retained projects favour leadership roles. But what is really interesting is how many women are now getting shortlisted and placed in these jobs. We already knew from our diversity statistics that we enjoy an equal gender balance among our candidates, if not slightly weighted towards women, with 56% female and 44% male candidates in 2017. But this research has found the numbers of women rising in our retained work too. So, while in 2015/16, only 23% of shortlisted candidates for retained roles were women, in 2016/17 this figure rose to 44% and for 2017/18, it was up again by three percentage points to 47%. Nearly even-stevens with men. Not only that but more women are also being placed in these roles. Back in 2015/16, we had a 70:30 ratio of men getting placed in these positions compared to women; this flipped to a 43:57 ratio in favour of women in 2016/7, and we now have a perfect 50:50 balance in 2017/18. This is fantastic news and something to be celebrated.

Role modelling the future

A great example of women getting ahead in law is Sadia Baron, Chief Marketing Officer at Reed Smith, who is also featured as a case study on our leadership microsite ( She joined Reed Smith in 2013 as Director of Marketing, EMEA, but before long she had taken on a second job as well – as Director of the BD function for the firm’s Business and Finance function. When she became CMO in September 2016, it was the logical culmination of her huge input over the past three years. But it was also an example of how doors are increasingly opening to talented women who want to make an impact at the highest levels of this fast-changing profession. Yes, we know we have some way to go yet. Women lawyers still lag behind men in achieving partnership in the legal profession. And law firms still need to work on delivering the kind of workplace flexibility that women often need to stay within the profession, and to advance and work at the highest levels – and that goes for business services professionals and lawyers. But things are changing – and in business services functions, particularly fast. We are delighted to have been able to work with so many talented women who are taking the lead and changing the legal sector from within.