Flexible working should become the norm to achieve gender equality, say leading women lawyers

Radical changes to firms’ approach to flexible working, improvements to parental leave and new mentoring and sponsorship programmes should be made top priorities to improve gender equality in the legal profession, according to women on the frontline.

The latest calls for change have been made by women shortlisted for Inspirational Women in Law Awards run by the First 100 Years project. Nominees were asked the question: “What is the single thing that would make a real and positive difference in achieving equality for women within the profession?”

The largest number of responses (24%) called for changes to working practices to better reflect women’s lives, including the normalisation of part-time working and the introduction of shorter working days for both women and men. Nominees also emphasised the importance of abandoning dated attitudes to flexible working which have wrongly cast women who work part time as unsuitable for senior roles or lacking in ambition.

Other suggestions to improve gender equality included compulsory paternity leave, scrapping billable hours, and introducing a four-day week for all, following the success of a similar scheme in New Zealand.

Mentoring is also seen as a crucial way to boost women’s confidence and combat ‘impostor syndrome’, which can be exacerbated by a lack of women role models in senior positions.

Making education on discrimination in the legal profession a compulsory part of the standard law degree was another proposal.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the First 100 Years Project, said: “There are some radical ideas here which demonstrate that we clearly need a major rethink of our workplaces. Today’s structures fail to accommodate the reality of women’s lives and more formal mechanisms must to be put in place to give women the support and chances they need to reach the top of the legal profession.”

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