The City

Driving gender equality across the female professional journey

On Tuesday 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day – but too many women are leaving the legal sector at associate level. Amandeep Khasriya considers the particular challenges facing women and how to confront them.

As a woman of Asian descent in the UK today, diversity and equality have always been important influences – and challenges – in my life.

The life of any solicitor is filled with hurdles to overcome but there is no getting away from the fact that the journey is that much harder for women.

Unconscious bias mars managerial and client opinions, and the lack of understanding around issues like motherhood and menopause is stymying the reach of many excellent female solicitors across the country.

As a result, too many women are leaving our sector at associate level and it’s easy to understand why.

There are the age-old issues with gender bias – women must prove their intelligence constantly, pressing for recognition that is readily given to our male counterparts.

The positive news is that the understanding of unconscious bias has improved drastically over my time in the profession, although eradicating this fully is still a long way off. But life creates its own career roadblocks for women as well.

We lose new mothers who do not feel they can “do it all” and other women who have found navigating discriminatory bias – conscious and unconscious – exhausting.

Then as we age, we face more adversity. Going through menopause provokes a plethora of jokes, insensitivity and masking of symptoms to the extent that one in six women going through menopause considers leaving work.

The result of all of this is that we lose a huge pool of talent and experience from women leaving the profession much earlier than they should.

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), more women are entering the legal sector than men, yet currently only 30% of senior positions, including firm partners, are made up of women.

A non-universal experience

My passion for supporting women is rooted in my own experiences.

After the birth of my first child, I took maternity leave. The time I got to spend with my newborn was invaluable – I don’t regret it, nor should any woman – but as the time came to return to work, I felt anxiety. I had been out of the loop for a while, would I need to prove myself all over again?

I was part of the first generation in my family to attend university and, as a British Indian woman, I have grown up tackling adversity, but to suddenly have to worry about my professional life because of a natural personal milestone was wrong.

I have been lucky to return to a supportive firm where our culture is based on autonomy that trusts and enables you to determine how, when and where you deliver your very best work, in balance with your personal and work needs.

Recognising that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for all of us is a big focus of our inclusion strategy at Moore Barlow, where more than half (56%) our partnership is female. But we know we still have work to do to ensure equality across a company where 75% of all employees are women.

We are taking active steps to offer women the flexibility and support needed to ensure that the life milestones they have to go through – that their male colleagues don’t – are not a barrier to progression. For example, we have recently launched our menopause support initiative which includes providing wellbeing support to those that need it.

Green shoots

Progress is being made – we are at least talking about the issues affecting the sector – and changing ingrained social bias will always take time.

It's important that we signpost support where it's available and look to generate more opportunities to confront systemic bias across our places of work.

I’m proud to work for a firm that is willing to listen and adapt to the needs of its people and is always looking to enact change where it is needed.

I remain optimistic that the current small shifts towards greater workplace representation are the tremors before a landslide of change in the legal sector.

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