Flexibility Is The Key: International Women’s Day And The Workplace 

Published on 08 March, 2022 | Claire Reid

This year marks the centenary of a milestone in the history of the legal profession.

In 1922, Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes and Maud Crofts became the first women to qualify as solicitors.

That they were only able to do so after the passing of a landmark piece of legislation – the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which enabled women to join the professions, sit on juries and be awarded degrees – seems almost staggering now.

Today, International Women’s Day, presents us with an appropriate opportunity to take a moment to consider the progress which has been made over the intervening decades.

I would like to think that Carrie Morrison and her colleagues – who have since been commemorated by the naming of a room at the Law Society’s London headquarters

(https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/contact-or-visit-us/press-office/press-releases/first-woman-solicitor-honoured-by-law-society) – would be at least quietly satisfied by what their achievement has brought about.

Last year’s edition of the annual Diversity of the Judiciary report revealed that women now account for just over half of all solicitors in England and Wales (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/diversity-of-the-judiciary-2021-statistics/diversity-of-the-judiciary-2021-statistics-report#gender-1).

It is part of a much broader pattern demonstrating the great strides which women have made.

The most recent research by the House of Commons’ Library shows that just under three-quarters of women aged 16 and over were in work at the end of 2020 (https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06838/SN06838.pdf).

That total constitutes a fall of 117,000 or half a per cent on the year before – a fall which, of course, may well be due to the economic and health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic

Despite that drop, I believe that lockdown may well teach employers and employees alike important lessons when it comes to the role of women in the workplace.

Chief among them is the degree of flexibility in how companies operate. It’s a point recognised by the Chartered Institute for Personal Development (CIPD) (https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/viewpoint/gender-equality-work#gref).

It has established some bold targets, including equal gender representation on the boards of companies making up the FTSE 350 by 2030.

One of the CIPD’s other recommendations to Government is help to “increase the uptake and range of flexible working opportunities”.

I count myself very fortunate to work for a firm which – even in a demanding profession – places great emphasis on flexible working.

As a mother, I appreciate having the ability to both attend to the needs of clients and my children.

I’m not made to feel guilty for dropping my children off at school or leaving the office early to pick them up at the end of the day.

The key ingredient, in my opinion, is trust. If bosses and staff have respect for each other and understand how the ‘work-life balance’ should not just be a pipedream, then it is possible to do great things together, as Hall Brown has shown in the relatively short time since we opened our doors to clients for the first time.

At Hall Brown, we don’t necessarily just look to keep pace with what everyone else is doing but to set the benchmark.

Whilst 52 per cent of all solicitors are women, at Hall Brown, we make up 82 per cent of legal fee earners. Exactly half of our partners are female, compared to the industry average of one-third.

The flexibility, about which I’ve already spoken, has been critical to that process.

Women in the legal profession will be keen to point out that much still remains to be done in order to attain the equal gender split identified by the CIPD as an objective.

Nevertheless, if firms are prepared to be flexible, I believe that they will attract more talented women in the future as well as retaining the skilled and experienced individuals already within the sector.

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