Female lawyers anxious over disproportionate impact of Covid

Denis-Smith: Women still feeling the fall-out from lockdown

Almost a quarter of women in the profession have not seen their incomes return to pre-Covid levels with one in five still on less than their previous working hours, a survey has found.

It also highlighted continued anxiety about women being disproportionately affected by cuts and redundancies.

The snap poll of over 400 women, conducted by the Next 100 Years project, recorded that 32% worked for organisations which had made redundancies as a result of the pandemic.

Over half (52%) suspected that some firms were using the pandemic as an excuse for cuts and with a majority seeing women being disproportionately impacted.

Despite this, only 9% thought their own jobs would be at risk in the next six months and 70% still expected their organisation to be resilient to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Three-quarters believed that their organisation was handling the crisis well.

It follows a survey the charity published in May that showed how it was having a significant impact on women’s finances, with mothers struggling to juggle family commitments with work.

The October poll painted a better picture but found women still under pressure, with near-term concerns about caring responsibilities for many, balanced with optimism about the future.

Almost two-thirds (63%) said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health and over half (55%) said that their caring responsibilities had increased since the pandemic had begun, either due to increased childcare or caring for vulnerable or shielding relatives.

Those with school-age children reported fewer childcare options than before the pandemic and expecting to have to take time off in the coming months due to school or nursery closures or their family having to self-isolate.

Nearly half (45%) were concerned their employer would be less understanding about childcare issues as the pandemic went on.

Most of the women were still working entirely or mainly from home, also one in seven felt under pressure to work from the office more than they felt comfortable with.

A fifth were expecting to stick with remote working only and just 4% anticipated a full return to the office.

Next 100 Years said concerns that women were more likely to be impacted by redundancies and cuts centred in part around their caring responsibilities.

One law firm partner said: “Women have really struggled with childcare and are worried about appraisals, especially when there is talk of rewarding those who ‘stepped up’ during lockdown.”

Another said: “As an employment lawyer who specialises in sex discrimination work for professional women, I have seen numerous female clients, especially mothers, lose their jobs in the past six months where it’s evident caring responsibilities have been a factor.”

Responses to the survey also highlighted that redundancies tended to be among junior legal staff, particularly paralegals, secretarial and businesses services staff, the majority of whom are female.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The Next 100 Years and CEO of Obelisk Support, said: “Although the situation has improved considerably since our lockdown survey in May, women are still feeling the fall-out from that period and remain apprehensive about the ongoing impact increased caring responsibilities will have on their working lives.”

A positive for women and working parents was how firms were embracing remote working for now and into the future, she added.

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