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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Research reveals women in legal profession still face work life balance challenges

Research reveals women in legal profession still face work life balance challenges


Half of women in the profession believe they are treated differently at work to men with children

New research from the Next 100 Years project has revealed 84 per cent of women who work in the legal profession and who have children to care for, still find it difficult to find they support they need to enable them to balance work life with the demands of being a care-giver; half believe they are treated differently at work to men with children.

While 89 per cent said post-covid 19 remote working had made juggling work and family commitments easier, the research found mothers continue to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility for childcare – 68 per cent said they do more than their partner.

Legal businesses have become more conscious of the need to improve working culture to ensure they are inclusive and able to attract and retain talented lawyers. Responses to the survey revealed employers are providing support to working mothers, including flexible hours (63 per cent) and remote working (80 per cent). The overwhelming majority (79 per cent) said employers were supportive when they needed flexibility.

Despite this, of the 60 per cent of mothers who wanted to be able to reduce their hours or work more flexibly in order to spend more time with their children, over half felt they couldn’t due to the impact it would have on career progression. Many cited client demands (48 per cent) and financial pressures (62 per cent), however 22 per cent said their employer would not agree to a reduction in hours.

Fewer than half felt they had good female role models at a senior level, only 5 per cent of employers provided financial help with childcare and just 21 per cent gave paid parental leave for family illness or emergency.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the Next 100 Years, said: “The pandemic forced the profession to adopt remote working, a huge change which is making life easier for working mothers. Despite this, the majority are still feeling the strain. There is still some way to go before the profession truly gets to grips with a problem that sees too many talented women unable to progress in their careers or drop out of the law altogether.

“Whilst outwardly supportive, there is still a feeling among the mothers we spoke to that employers treat them differently to their male counterparts and that any move towards more flexible working or part-time hours could have a detrimental impact on their career prospects. We need to see a culture change in the profession, towards valuing outputs rather than inputs, with structural changes that give those with family commitments the ability to thrive and progress.”