The work of Hilda
– providing opportunities and conditions for the advancement of women within the Swedish law firms and judiciary
By Anna Fridh Welin, secretary of the Board of the Swedish Bar Association. On behalf of the Hilda network. October 2014.
The majority of the students in law programs in Sweden are women. Of the students graduating more than half are women and women often leave their academic career with better grades than men. More than half of the people employed within the courts, the Prosecution Authority, other governmental authorities or agencies as well as at law firms, are women. But very few women advance to executive or directive positions or are made partners in law firms. How come?
It was against this backdrop that Anne Ramberg, Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, in January 2006 initiated a meeting with thirty-something women who upheld leading positions at law firms or within the public judiciary to discuss the issue. Participating in the meeting were representatives from the judiciary, the courts, the police, the government and from some of the major law firms. The result?
At the end of that meeting, on the 18 of January 2006, also Hilda’s name day, the network Hilda was established. Many of the women participating in that initial meeting still upholds leading positions within their law firm or agency and are still active members of the network, or as we refer to these women, “Hildor”. Today, over eight years later, some have retired and some new members have been elected, and today the network is made up by about 50 women, many of which upholds positions as managing partner or partner of a law firm, director-general, chief judge, chief of police etc.
The women participating in that founding meeting may not have agreed on the reasons behind the under-representation of women in leading positions; however, they were in agreement that they wanted to change those numbers. They believed that women and their competence and knowledge are needed within the judiciary and all of the legal community. The result of that first meeting was Hilda’s programme declaration, that since, have been its often stated goal and purpose: to support women working at law firms or within the judiciary in their professional career and to create conditions for women to develop within their profession, hence increasing the number of female legal executives within the judiciary and female partners of law firms.
Since 2006, Hilda as a network has developed as well. One major development and improvement has been the establishment of Ruben in 2010, which is a male version of Hilda, i.e. consisting of men upholding similar leading positions within the same areas of law, that participate in the more general discussions as well as mentors, sharing the goal and purpose of Hilda.
Hilda’s projects and the network itself is carried out on a non-profit basis. That includes the Hilda-women and Ruben-men that, with great passion and devotion should be added, devote their time and knowledge without any remuneration. However, when it comes to some of Hilda’s projects participants is charged a conference fee or a participating fee at cost price. Members of the Swedish Bar Association, i.e. lawyers upholding the professional title Advokat, have the possibility to be credited for their participation with hours for structured professional training within the mandatory yearly requirement according to the guidelines: the Swedish Regime for Continuing Professional Training of Advocates.
A year in the life of Hilda
The different projects carried out by Hilda, many of which, if not all, are organized by the Swedish Bar Association, all have different history. Some, such as Sofia mentoring project, has been there since the start, others, such as the Ruben group mentoring project has been added over the years. Hilda’s various and current project is best described by picturing a year in the life of Hilda.
First of all, Hilda has its’ own website, https://www.advokatsamfundet.se/Hilda/Hilda/, located as a sub-website to the Swedish Bar Association’s website. On the website any visitor can read up on some facts and numbers about female representation within the law sector, apply to different mentoring projects and read about the women and men involved in Hilda and Ruben. Members of Hilda also take turn publishing monthly chronicles on the website. The chronicles are meant to offer advice to young lawyers and other legal professionals or shed some insightful thoughts on pressing issues at hand. News related to Hilda, Hilda’s cause and members of Hilda and Ruben are regularly posted on the website.
A year in the life of Hilda consists first of all of one annual conference for women within the professional law sector, named Rakel. The Rakel conference focus on how to make it, manage and thrive as a women professionally and personally within the law profession. Each year Rakel attracts about 300 female participants and the conference over the years has hosted lecturers from the cultural and social media scene as well as representatives from law firms, authorities, including ministers from government, chief judges from both national but also European courts, and the private industry on a different variety of issues such as decision-making, rhetoric, employer branding as well as law-career related topics and leadership. Also, and perhaps as important, Rakel offers a great opportunity to meet and establish relations with both the members of Hilda and other colleagues in addition to working as a platform for discussions on a number of important issues.
Two mentoring projects run on a yearly basis; Sofia, which is an individual mentorship and Ruben, which is a group mentorship project. In Sofia, mentees are nominated by the members of Hilda or Ruben. Each mentee is paired to one of the members of Hilda for a period of a year. The mentor does not have the same background as the mentee, for instance an advocate will have a chief judge as a mentor and the other way around. Elected to Sofia are those women who are about to or have already taken their first step toward a partnership in a law firm or a leading position within the judiciary. Since the start over 100 mentees have participated. Ruben – mentorship by group is open for applications in the three major cities, Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö. The number of groups has varied over the years, but has consistently been between six and nine. Each group consists of approximately 8 mentees and each group is given two mentors, one female – a Hilda, and one male – a Ruben. The purpose of Ruben is to raise awareness and interest around leadership in an early stage of a lawyer’s career. Hence, the Ruben participants are normally younger than those involved in Sofia. Each season is evaluated and both these projects have been greatly appreciated by both the mentors and mentees. The result of the evaluation is also discussed within the Hilda and Ruben network in order to enhance structure and performance. For instance, one change that took place after the first year of Ruben, was to allow male participant as mentees in the project. Hilda has seen this as a natural development of the project along with the philosophy that consistent change best take place within a realistic context and that exclusion of young male lawyers in this perspective does not further Hilda’s goal and purpose.
Other than this Hilda and its members participates in different discussions on matters close to Hilda’s cause and Hilda also arranges between 12–20 lunch seminars every year at several locations throughout the country. To each seminar a guest speaker is invited to hold a speech for about 30 minutes either on a topic related to female representation or leadership. The lunch seminars are well-visited and often offer the audience a possibility to listen to the speaker’s personal take on different questions within a more closed setting. Seminars are also reported on Hilda’s website as well as in the Swedish Bar Association’s periodical Advokaten.
One a yearly basis, well over 15 000 visits Hilda’s website and well over 1 000 participates in the different activities and project organized by Hilda.
Women within Swedish law firms and the Swedish Bar Association
With the exception of law firms, equality within the public legal professions has increased greatly over the last ten years. For example, within the Swedish Prosecution Authority and the Swedish courts, equality policies are consolidated and the number of male and female executives and chiefs are almost equal.
In 2012 the Bar Association carried out a survey of its members, which showed the typical advocate to be a male. The typical associate at a law firm however, is a female. Among the advocates, the percentage of female advocates is about 28 percent; however women are in majority, about 58 percent when it comes to associates at law firms. Female owners or partners in law firms adds up to 21 percent, but when it comes to the largest law firms in Sweden the percentage of female partners is lower, around 13 percentage.
On the other hand, there have been several positive developments that have taken place mainly over the last five to seven years. The percentage of female advocates has increased by around one percentage every year. In 2008 the percentage of female owners and partners were a bit over 14 percent and in 2011 about 17 percent, and now is up to 21. When it comes to partners in law firms born 1970 or later, a third, 34 percent, are females. Among individual owners of law firms born 1970 or later equality do exists, 50 percent are women. Another example to demonstrate that equality is improving is found in one of the major law firms in Sweden. Recently seven advocates were made partners, out of which two, hence well over one fourth, are women.
In the Swedish Bar’s 127 year old history, Anne Ramberg is the first female to hold the position of Secretary General of the Swedish Bar, however, this is a position that she has upheld for almost 14 years. Prior to that she also served as a member of the Board for seven years. Similarly, only one woman has held the presidency of the Bar Association. At the moment, the chairman of the Bar’s Disciplinary Committee is a woman. Among the Board, one third of the members are women. When it comes to the people working at the Bar itself, both legal and administrative employees, women is clearly in majority.
The future ahead
The name Hilda has its origins within Old Norse language and stems from the name Hild, which was one of the god Odin’s valkyries. It exists in the Islandic word hildr, ”battle”. For sure, Hilda continues to make its voice heard for increased gender equality, offering equal opportunities for men and women within the law firms and the legal community. But on an even more important note, Hilda does not sum up its purpose simply as a battle for better numbers but as a strive for personal and professional gain of both women and law firms and authorities alike. Also, Hilda believes that it is not strictly a gender issue, but more noticeably over the last couple of years, a generation issue. Today, younger associates and partners, in accordance with the increasing equality in society in general, both female and male face similar challenges and demands equal opportunities when it comes to life-work balance for instance. For this purpose the members of the Hilda and Ruben networks serves as good role models to the younger generation of both women and men, and participation in all of Hilda’s different projects comes to serve as a mean to a much greater end.