Retaining talented women – small changes see big rewards
At a time when more young women are entering the legal profession than ever before, now is the time for firms to take serious action and prioritise inclusivity and support measures that ensure this talent pool can enjoy life-long enriching careers.
There is a sad reality in the legal profession that too many women are leaving our profession at associate level.
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.
After my own maternity leave, I recognised that this will be an issue for many women, following which I set up a Twitter community called @WomenBacktoLaw focused on getting more women back into the profession following a career break or maternity leave.
The lack of industry-wide support in this area has left a talent shortage and presents a challenge for firms looking to increase female representation at Partner level.
The good news is that simple changes to work-place policies and attitudes across the industry could end this trend.
The fact that women in 2019 are still having to navigate discrimination is unacceptable and firms must show a zero-tolerance approach to this type of behaviour.
Question marks should no longer exist around the types of work women can carry out. For instance, I know that female lawyers can often feel overlooked for projects that either require out of hours work or attendance at social events.
This type of bias – which may even at times be well-intentioned – is damaging and a key factor in limiting progression of women from associate to partner level.
In a Law Society 2017-18 survey, 52% of respondents said the presence of perceived unconscious bias in the legal profession was the most commonly cited reason why so few women reach senior positions in law firms.
At Moore Blatch, we have addressed this issue directly by introducing compulsory unconscious bias training for all partners and managers.
As a result, we have directly raised awareness of the types of discrimination and bias issues that could be felt by colleagues and acted to create a more inclusive working environment.
Further, we all know that a culture of presenteeism is endemic in law firms. This is a problematic culture issue even if you do not need to consider childcare needs.
At Moore Blatch, we have a women in leadership in law group to ensure that gender equality is factored into all current and new policies.
I have seen first-hand how new inclusivity measures can help women remain and return to work. For example, our agile working policy, enables our lawyers to schedule work around family life without impacting progression.
It’s also great to see the Law Society leading on this issue. The Law Society has several initiatives to help people back to work after a period away.
From the Law Returners initiative, which supports people back from a career break or maternity leave through a six-month placement, to the free advice given during the ‘re-charger’ workshops and the excellent Back to Law ambassadors, the Law Society has set up a number of different initiatives and support networks to help lawyers navigate their careers and stay in the sector.
I saw this first hand at the recent Law Society’s international symposium: the power of gender equality to transform the business of law and the message was simple – hire more women, don’t lose women and promote more women.
It is my hope that firms across the legal sector recognise the simple changes that they can make internally that will lead to big changes across the industry and every individual should feel empowered to be a ‘change maker’.
By investing in career development schemes, such as mentoring schemes, leadership training and confidence building workshops, and adopting inclusive policies, fewer female lawyers will feel the need to take a career break and more will return following maternity leave.
This will leave a larger talent pool and greater gender balance at partner level, which will undoubtedly bring huge rewards to firms and equality in law.
Amandeep Khasriya is an associate solicitor at Moore Blatch.