Women in law; addressing attrition with agile working

Posted in Blog on 14 Mar 2019

While the legal world has made strong progress in promoting gender diversity, agile working could take it to the next level.

It’s timely to celebrate the achievements of female professionals. It’s Women’s History Month, while International Women’s Day on March 8th recognised the social, economic, cultural and political successes of females globally.

For the legal profession, these celebrations seem even more significant this year. 2019 is the centenary year since the passing of the Sexual Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.  

Undoubtedly, much progress in gender diversity in the legal profession has been made in the past 100 years. This can be seen in a quick snapshot of our annual Salary and Benefits Benchmarker surveys. In 2018, for the fourth year running, female respondents outnumbered their male counterparts by 2:1. It was a similar story in this year’s survey, where 62% of the 3,000 people that took part were female.

Law Society statistics further underline this strong representation of women in legal. 68.8% of UK applicants accepted to study law undergraduate courses in 2017-18 were female. 

Despite this gender diversity, there’s still a high attrition rate among female legal professionals. This means female talent is not equally represented among senior leadership in the legal world. Data from the Law Society shows 28% of senior partners are women.

The forthcoming ‘Women In Law Summit’ (17th May, London) is working to address this, aiming to promote equality and equity. Taking a look at the findings from our annual Salary & Benefits Benchmarker, agile working is key to achieving a more balanced representation of female talent in senior leadership roles.

There’s a strong correlation between the majority of female professionals that take part in the surveys and the consistently top ranking of ‘flexi-time’, ‘above statutory holidays’ and ‘agile working’ as the most desired employee benefits.  

Female legal professionals are looking for more flexible working arrangements, which allow them to effectively balance work and personal commitments. They don’t see a need to compromise between the two and moving away from the traditional nine-to-five or taking extra holidays shouldn’t be confused with a less ambitious attitude towards work.   

Responses to the annual Salary and Benefits Benchmarker, which are dominated by around two thirds of female legal professionals, also regularly show the vast majority have leadership ambitions. These exist alongside the desire to have a life outside of work and are often hampered by factors such as practicalities about maintaining a positive work/life balance.

We’ve seen a trend of law firms starting to address this. They’re making increasing efforts to evolve roles to fit with parenthood. Flexi-time is just one part of this, and the most forward-thinking firms are creating positions that aren’t confined to the rigors of an office, set working patterns or even one person, either female or male.

Agile working can involve the creation of co-roles, with senior positions and responsibilities often shared by two people. This has the added benefit of the two people sharing different perspectives and experiences, enhancing the quality of decision making.

Beyond co-roles, flexi-time is being redefined to be truly agile. There’s an increasing focus on working agreements that meet both the requirements of the professional and the firm. Employees are empowered to take more control of when and where they work. Teams are structured to accommodate different working patterns to ensure all employees have a degree of flexibility, while quality of service is maintained. In many cases, productivity is improved as professionals are naturally more motivated – something we saw in this year’s Salary and Benefits Benchmarker, with 83% of legal professionals thinking agile working would positively impact their productivity.   

Technology enables this level of agile working, but more importantly, it’s the collaboration between the firm and the professional that makes it a success. Both parties strive towards satisfying shared ambitions and finding a common ground for achieving goals.

Agile working will help address attrition rates among legal women, who won’t feel pressured to make a choice between being a parent or a professional. This will help to promote a stronger representation of women in senior positions, naturally creating more female leadership role models and further encouraging gender diversity throughout all levels of the legal profession.

Read more about senior female leaders at Douglas Scott or contact the team to find out more about gender diversity in talent attraction and retention.

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