White & Case Helsinki partner Tanja Törnkvist evaluates gender diversity in the Finnish legal profession including the high volume entering of women entering the profession but the relatively low number in senior positions


What obstacles have you had to contend with during your legal career that related to your gender?

Luckily enough, I have never experienced any real obstacles because of my gender. This is largely due to the fact that Finland, generally speaking, provides fairly equal opportunities to women and men. In addition, I have always been very fortunate in having supportive colleagues and superiors that have believed in me and who have treated me as a lawyer – not as a female lawyer.


From the perspective of gender equality how does the environment which you work in now compare to the one you began your career in?

During my 20 plus years in the legal profession, the number of female lawyers has grown significantly both at White & Case and at other law firms. Also the number of women in advisor roles and leadership positions generally has increased. I remember 20 years ago I was often the only female in a conference room or working on a project. Nowadays, being the only female participant in a meeting would be very unusual.


In general do you feel the legal profession within the country where you are based treats women and men equally?

Yes, in my view, the legal profession does treat, or at least wants to treat, women and men equally. Looking at the statistics, it seems that 65% of law students in Finland are women nowadays, and I think for the last 25 years, women have been in the majority in law schools. Also, 60% of new attorneys, that are admitted to the Finnish Bar, are women. But then when you look at partner and managing partner levels, a much smaller percentage are women. This is an inconsistency that needs to change and that the legal profession in Finland very much wants to change.


Are there any initiatives to promote gender equality in the legal profession in your jurisdiction?

All law firms are offering various types of solutions that seek to promote gender equality varying from flexible working hour arrangements to mentoring and training programs. Last year the Finnish Bar Association conducted a study about equality amongst lawyers in law firms. The study showed that we are clearly not yet doing enough and thus, it was an important reminder for all of us that the legal profession needs to continue to work together to find new and better solutions to address the problems raised in the study..


If you could introduce one policy related to gender equality in the legal profession what would it be?

For me, it would be a more equal split of parental leave between men and women. Parental leave in Finland is typically approximately one year but the parents can take a leave of absence until the child turns three years. Currently, women are very much encouraged to take parental leave and are offered various types of alternative working arrangements. The issue, however, is that men are not really encouraged in the same way, so they are not taking this leave in the way that women are. It follows then that though women have the same opportunities in the legal profession to reach senior positions as their male colleagues, the fact that they are away more than men, might make them feel like they are left behind or missing out on opportunities.. Only when personal obligations and responsibilities outside work are more evenly distributed between men and women, we will have equal conditions for both genders to pursue a career.

Do you feel women are well represented at partner level and in management positions in firms within the country where you are based? (Follow-up question) If not, what do you think can be done to ensure women are well represented at these levels?

As long as the number of women at partner level isn’t the same as at associate level, we cannot say that women are well represented. We are moving in the right direction, but too slowly. The sharing of parental leave must be encouraged more, and the general thinking in society must change so that men feel that it is okay for them to take parental leave.


What initiatives do you have in place at your firm to promote gender equality?

We have various initiatives at the firm both globally and locally. These include different types of mentoring and training programmes, both for larger audiences but also targeted training for individuals. For example, we have a very good mentoring programme for female senior associates. For larger audiences, we have conducted very useful unconscious bias training - reminding people that sometimes we may act in an unhelpful manner unconsciously. For example, when a lawyer returns from parental leave – a woman or a man – one shouldn’t make assumptions or guess at how much that person wants to work or what type of assignments that person should take. You must, instead, offer the same opportunities to every single lawyer irrespective of their situations and it is for them to decide what works for them in their then-current circumstances.


Do you think your firm compares well to others in your market when considering gender equality?

Yes, absolutely. I also think the situation among Helsinki law firms generally is quite good.


What advice would you give to women in junior positions to encourage them to work towards attaining senior positions?

It is really about trusting in yourself, doing what you want to do and working towards your own personal goals. I would also say: don’t give up on your dreams. If you dreamt of being a partner or general counsel in a company when you graduated from law school, keep that dream alive. It doesn’t have to be your number one mission or priority all the time, and you can even put it on hold momentarily, but don’t lose it. It is also useful to find a trusted senior lawyer to talk to. It doesn’t have to be a formal mentor and can be either a woman or a man, but just someone you trust and with whom you can openly discuss your goals and dreams in your career and your life in general.

I sometimes hear from associates that they don’t want to be in leadership positions, and that’s of course fine, but I would also like to challenge that a little bit and ask: why not? Don’t you want to share the knowledge you have obtained to help and motivate others to succeed in their careers? Because that’s what leadership fundamentally is, and it is extremely rewarding.


What do you feel are the biggest obstacles for women in your country joining the legal profession now?

I don’t see that there are any obstacles in joining the legal profession in Finland. It is more about how to keep the profession attractive to female lawyers as they climb up the ladder. Frankly, I don’t think it is even a gender issue; we need and want to keep the profession attractive and provide opportunities to everyone irrespective of the gender. Systematic training and mentoring, challenging and changing work responsibilities and shared parental leave arrangements are part of that solution, along with acknowledging and accepting also people’s personal responsibilities outside the work and remaining flexible to these.