The Reignite Academy’s Reignite programme is designed to support women returning to work after a break. It’s this focus on practical and actionable advice that sets the mentoring scheme apart from others in the industry. It also benefits employers by enabling them to retain experienced talent.
For many women, their career runs smoothly until they decide to have children – at which point, the prospects of leading a successful life as both a mother and lawyer become fraught with societal, cultural and workplace challenges.
Women are faced with the challenges of flexible working, unconscious bias, presenteeism and billable hours – not to mention ‘mum guilt’. After returning from my own maternity leave and having experienced this personally, I wanted to become a mentor to support other women.
Our industry needs to better support pipeline talent to ensure women are gaining the right experience and credibility in readiness for future promotion decisions. By focusing on mentoring and ‘returners programmes’ we can increase retention and boost confidence for those who have taken a career break.
As a mentor for the Reignite programme, I was trained by The Law Society and matched with my mentee based on our own profiles. Once we had been matched, we agreed clear objectives, meeting formats and frequency, as it’s important both parties are committed to the relationship.
We met face-to-face on a monthly basis. Between meetings, I regularly shared material, resources, event information and details of my own experiences that I thought would help us navigate the workplace. There were takeaways for us both.
There is also a constant and open dialogue so you have the opportunity to discuss your experience, challenges and success with other mentors on the programme.
Mentoring is a brilliant opportunity for women in law and more junior members of the profession, but there’s still a low uptake of formal mentoring schemes across the industry. All firms should consider establishing coaching, mentoring and sponsorship initiatives to empower women to achieve leadership roles. It’s one reason I helped establish Moore Barlow’s Women in Leadership in Law working group to address the issues women face in securing leadership positions across the industry.
It’s important we give back to junior members in our profession and this was a real driver for me. Our industry is fast-paced and competitive; and being off work on maternity leave meant I lost confidence and felt ‘out of the loop’. Looking back, I know I would have welcomed and benefited from the support of a mentor during this period.
It’s also never too early to start – you don’t need to wait to be a partner or in a senior leadership position to become a mentor. There’s a lot to be learnt at each stage of the promotion and leadership process, both in pregnancy and the return to work, so if you think you can help others –go for it.
You don’t need to set up a formal mentoring programme – mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes and we need to celebrate some of the amazing examples of hidden mentoring going on across the industry so we can raise awareness of it.
Mentoring support for women with protected characteristics, such as race or disability, is also vital to ensure fair and timely progress to leadership roles. The statistics speak for themselves: while the diversity of legal talent is increasing, diversity at partnership level remains low and we must not lose sight of the barriers to entry and career progression for all minority groups.
Despite the steps being taken at entry level, there’s still a vast gap in opportunity. For example, the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority has found that white males have a 73.5 per cent likelihood of becoming a partner, whereas this plummets to 13 per cent if you are a black or Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) female.
This requires urgent action and initiatives such as mentoring will help these underrepresented women in law.
Amandeep Khasriya is a senior associate at Moore Barlow moorebarlow.com...