Mothers in law still struggle to juggle despite more supportive employers

Denis-Smith: We need both cultural and structural change

The vast majority of mothers (84%) working in the law still find it difficult to balance working life with the demands of being a mother, despite some signs of progress.

But despite greater opportunities for flexible working, half of the 357 legal professionals surveyed last month by the Next 100 Years project believed they were treated differently at work to men with children.

Whilst the pandemic has led to significant positive change – 89% said post-Covid remote working had made juggling work and family commitments easier – mothers continued to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility for childcare, with 68% saying they did more than their partner.

Law firms and other employers were providing more support to working mothers, including flexible hours (63%) and remote working (80%). The overwhelming majority (79%) said their employers were supportive when they needed flexibility.

Despite this, of the 60% of mothers who wanted to be able to reduce their hours or work more flexibly so as to spend more time with their children, over half felt unable to do so due to the impact it would have on their career opportunities.

Many cited client demands (48%) and financial pressures (62%), with 22% saying that their employer would not agree to a reduction in hours.

Less than half felt they had good female role models at a senior level in their organisation, only 5% of employers provided financial help with childcare and just 21% 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.”

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