Life as a working mother has its challenges.
Several differing responsibilities all competing for priority necessitate a careful balancing act. It’s one that takes some mastering. As a mother of an 18 month old daughter, I am lucky to work for a firm where our founders believe that no one should be penalised for having families. They recognise that women have so much to offer as intelligent productive lawyers and that value doesn’t diminish simply because you choose to have a baby.
That’s not to say that this is the attitude across the board – gender discrimination is still rife in the British workplace. Unfortunately in my industry, gender equality is still a huge issue and one which needs addressing urgently. Research released last month found that 60 per cent of women lawyers feel that gender has hampered their careers, with only one in five partners at the top London commercial law firms being female. And this this isn’t just limited to the legal sector – a report from Workingmums.co.uk also found that 49 per cent of working mothers feel their employer actively discriminates against them. This needs to change: management teams have to take responsibility. Creative thought about how to harness the talent and intellect of women with families, rather than dismissing them and mothers taking ownership of their careers post children is a vital dialogue needed to make progress.
It is possible to have a top flight career and a great home life but it takes some juggling. It isn’t easy but it’s more than possible and great fun. That’s why one’s choice of firm is so important. At Vardags, I head our Manchester office which comprises of an all-female team. The culture we have created in our workplace, which is constructive and considerate, can truly be hailed as collegiate. The unbridled confidence that we have in our staff, each other and our services permeates the office and it’s infectious. In such an environment, I am able to offer the very best advice to my clients but have a full and rounded life at home. I encourage my staff to do the same.
I start my day with a kiss from my little girl. I can arrange my work hours so I can wake up when she does, dress her, eat breakfast together and take her to nursery. Most days I’m back to bath her and put her in bed. So much of what I do can be completed at home or in the evening there is no need to be tethered to a desk. I couldn’t do it all without my husband, we have a truly equal partnership but I don’t think I could do it, certainly not as simply, at another firm.
Every parent has a different view of what success looks like but if we are to have a well-rounded society, we have to find a way to make sure the work place doesn’t lose some of the best and brightest. Mothers need to take the initiative and promote themselves, dispense with the guilt and truly believe that enjoying your career isn’t wrong, you are setting the very best example for your children. But employers need to be proactive with working mothers to create a real flexible working practice where everyone is given the chance to succeed, regardless of their home life or gender. This is what creates a truly dynamic and inspiring place to work. It’s not hard. It is achievable. But it requires active management from the top down.
About the author:
Emma Gill is Director and Head of Manchester office at leading family law firm Vardags