Childcare obligations should not be impacting careers

Guest post by Martin Usher, associate solicitor at Moore Blatch

Usher: Many obstacles for parents attempting to progress in the profession

As a single parent, I am keenly aware of the constant challenge balancing work and family life, something which can at times feel difficult to navigate in the legal profession.

So I can relate to many of the issues faced by women trying to get to positions of leadership within the law. I am also well aware of being in the minority as a man bearing the bulk of childcare responsibilities, in a society where the onus still falls predominantly on women to be the main caregiver in their family.

Having personal experience of facing similar barriers has strengthened my conviction that the entire profession needs to do more to support all parents with childcare responsibilities and help them to progress in their careers.

I currently work in the personal injury team for Moore Blatch, who have been supportive of me and my family. However, speaking to others in the profession, it is clear there are still a lot of obstacles for parents attempting to progress in the profession. There is no industry standard that mandates inclusive working policies, so the issues those with childcare responsibilities face can be both logistically and mentally difficult.

This predicament is certainly not unique to the legal industry, but the profession does have a culture involving long hours and out-of-hours networking, making it much harder for those with new family responsibilities to carry out their roles as they did before.

Sadly, the industry is losing too many parents who are the main caregivers as they feel they cannot balance working and family life.

As someone who has had to navigate single parenthood and career progression, I am acutely aware of the problems that arise. There is the fundamental issue of scheduling meetings around having to be there for your child, compounded on occasions by an inability to stay late at client events.

At certain firms, presenteeism can be rife, so you have to tackle the perception that you are not working as hard as others because you are not sat at your desk until late in the evening.

Add to this the parental guilt you feel when you sometimes cannot be at home, or when you are unable to give your undivided attention to your child and it can create a perfect storm of issues that can harm your career if workplaces do not have the right policies in place to help you manage them.

I have tried to use my personal experience to help tackle this issue that disproportionately affects women. I sit on Moore Blatch’s Women in Leadership in Law working group that looks to address the hurdles women face in securing leadership positions. It may seem odd to some to have a man in a group focused on female leadership, but my colleagues were keen for me to join to tackle any unconscious bias that might arise and ensure we had a fully representative working group.

It soon became apparent that, as a single parent, I could relate to several barriers they face and my involvement was helpful in identifying the core reasons that help to create the inequality of opportunity we see in the profession regardless of gender.

The industry is slowly beginning to put policies in place to address this issue. At Moore Blatch, I am proud to be part of a forward-thinking firm that has supported me as a single parent. The Women in Leadership in Law is a brilliant example of a workplace forum where you can have open and meaningful discussions about the barriers people face, whilst then having the solutions factored into all current and new policies.

Another successful initiative is the firm’s agile working policy that allows lawyers to schedule work flexibly around family life – ensuring your opportunity to progress is not impacted by your ability to be in a certain place, at a certain time.

It is pleasing to see this issue being more widely discussed and certain law firms beginning to address how best to support those taking care of their children, but there is further to go.

We need the whole industry to consider flexible working practices and factor in those with childcare needs to every policy created going forward. The impact of this would be massive for all those who are being forced to choose between work and family, as well as ensuring we stop losing talented lawyers from the profession year after year or stop preventing them from being able to achieve their full potential.

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