Is law still a man’s world? Not in conveyancing
‘Staff are by far our finest asset – many of them working mothers – let’s start treating them that way.’
When I told my company director before Christmas that I was pregnant, I must admit, I felt nervous. Not because I thought she would be anything other than 100% supportive, which she was, but because of the maternity prejudice I had previously witnessed other female colleagues experiencing from senior management, which is an attitude still deeply intrenched within our industry.
I have worked with women who, from the moment they get married, are openly asked about their plans to start a family. I have worked with women who have hidden their early pregnancy from bosses for fear of losing their job. I know colleagues who have openly said that they are worried their job won’t be there for them when they return from maternity leave. This bias against working mothers is embedded from the top down across our sector and things need to change.
In conveyancing, there are more women practising as solicitors than men. At Aconveyancing, 85% of our staff are women of all ages, from college leavers to grandmothers. We have some of the smartest and hardest working people in law in our corner. Working mothers are some of the best staff I have ever worked with – from admin support right through to company directors – juggling the school run just like everyone else. Working mothers are efficient, loyal and no nonsense. In conveyancing, our staff are by far our finest asset – many of them working mothers – let’s start treating them that way.
Male colleagues – please do not take this the wrong way, it’s not a men VS women debate. This is about equality for all staff and that includes offering men flexible working too, should they need it. I work with some incredible men here at Aconveyancing, but it cannot be denied that across the board(room), men hold the majority of the top jobs in a female dominated industry. Just this week, I checked the websites for the top conveyancing associations in the UK and women make up just 20% of the director level positions. So, what can we do to change this?
Change the narrative
Research shows that motherhood triggers (false) assumptions that mothers are more focused on their children than their job and are therefore less competent, committed, and productive at work than fathers or employees without children. This “motherhood penalty” often results in working mothers being paid less or denied promotions.
It’s time to change the way we talk about maternity support and flexible working. Trusting staff to manage their caseload within an agreed timeframe shouldn’t come with stigma and women should not be made to choose between being a committed employee or good parent. Finding ways to keep and nurture highly trained, super-smart individuals is an investment, not a hassle. Especially when the alternative involves sky-high recruitment fees and a time consuming process to find other, often less experienced, candidates for the job.
Keep the best talent
It’s a legal right to support women through pregnancy and childbirth just as it is in sickness and bereavement. Not only do we have the struggle of pregnancy, childbirth and rearing a newborn, but we often then face the pressure of returning to work early, juggling childcare commitments and a demanding job. By not supporting our female colleagues, we are forcing smart woman to tap-out of our industry in favour of less pressured jobs.
Performance review criteria should be clearly defined and measured, so employees are evaluated based on results and not on how many hours they work. Work needs to be sustainable for working parents with flexible working hours and the option to work from home without being unfairly judged.
If there were ever a time to re-examine productivity or adjust performance objectives, it would be during a global pandemic. Covid has proven to us all that we can work from home and still keep the wheels on. With the right investment in technology and secure IT systems, there is no reason that teams can’t work as effectively from home.
But with that also comes the need to establish firm boundaries between personal time and work time, such as no emails or meetings in the evenings – and again, the support of senior leaders is crucial to these efforts.
This change needs to be led from the top down. If companies don’t act, it’s our industry that loses out.
For more information, visit www.aconveyancing.co.uk