Next year marks the 100-year anniversary of women being allowed to qualify as lawyers. The thought of not being able to qualify because of gender is probably not something that has crossed the minds of this generation’s budding newly qualified solicitors, but we can’t help but wonder how far the legal profession and business generally has moved on in the last century. With women dominating the figures amongst law students and junior lawyers, why is there still such a discrepancy at partner level?
The Law Society figures report that women make up 60% of newly qualified solicitors and nearly 50% overall. Unfortunately, these statistics are less favourable the higher up the ladder you climb. According to PWC, women make up only 18% of partners in the top 10 UK law firms and only 19% of partners in the top 11 to 25 UK law firms.
These figures might not be surprising to those who view the legal world as somewhat behind the more innovative industries such as Tech or Finance (the phrase “archaic” often appears in discussions with non-legal professionals). But what about business generally – are the statistics in other industries any better?
In March 2018, it was reported that around 29% of FTSE 100 board positions are held by women. Whilst the Government website seems to market this as a positive step, stating that these figures “reveal more women than ever before are on boards of the UK’s largest companies”, you can’t disregard that women don’t even make up 30%. So, it looks like other industries are not as far ahead as we might expect!
The recent publication of Gender Pay Gap Reports, movements such as “Me Too” and “Times Up”, and the ongoing gender equality battles have raised the profile of women’s issues across the world. But has this helped realign the balance between men and women in business? There is talk of positive discrimination and the “token woman” being placed on boards or in positions of power in an attempt to show diversity and inclusion. For ambitious junior women who want to be judged on their work ethic and ability to perform their role, this does not provide much comfort.
So how can you support your female employees to progress through the ranks and reach their full potential? Here are our suggestions:
1. A genuine approach to flexible working – in our eyes, this doesn’t mean allowing people to work from home one morning because they have a dentist appointment. You should get to know your employees, their individuals’ circumstances and how flexible working arrangements could help with the competing demands of life – whether this is work, family commitments, caring for relatives, childcare or just allowing some time for looking after their own wellbeing! This applies equally to men as it does to women – allowing flexible working arrangements across the board can help your employees juggle work and family life in partnership with those who it affects most…their families.
2. Don’t be scared to talk about the issues – create an environment where employees can talk openly about these issues. Are there assumptions and perceptions of women in your business? Not all women want a family; equally, some women want to return to work full-time after maternity leave or couples may want to utilise shared parental leave – don’t assume you know what your employees want – talk, listen and respond on a case by case basis.
3. Communication – most people would agree that men and women communicate differently. In our all-female team, each of us admit that in the past we have catastrophised feedback, over analysed conversations with superiors or felt overcome by self-doubt. Those in leadership roles should recognise and adapt their management style, tailor their communication to suit their employees and take account of how their employees feel most supported. This encourages a positive atmosphere and gives employees the sense of feeling valued, regardless of their gender.
We strongly believe that raising the profile of gender equality is a key step to tackling these issues and we see the recent developments as a step in the right direction. We hope that other businesses will join us in supporting female employees to unlock their full potential and seek to erase the preconceived ideas about gender in the workplace.