Vast majority of mothers in UK legal profession struggle to balance work with motherhood

Vast majority of mothers in UK legal profession struggle to balance work with motherhood

New research from the Next 100 Years project has found 84 per cent of UK mothers working in the law still find it difficult to balance working life with the demands of being a mother, with half believing they are treated differently at work to men with children.

Whilst the pandemic has led to significant positive change – 89 per cent said post-Covid remote working had made juggling work and family commitments easier – mothers continue to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility for childcare, with 68 per cent saying they do more than their partner.

Legal businesses are more conscious than ever of the need to improve their working cultures to ensure they are inclusive and able to attract and retain talented lawyers. This is reflected by responses to the survey that showed employers are providing support to working mothers, including flexible hours (63 per cent) and remote working (80 per cent). The overwhelming majority (79 per cent) said their employers were supportive when they needed flexibility.

Despite this, of the 60 per cent of mothers who wanted to be able to reduce their hours or work more flexibly in order to spend more time with their children, over half felt unable to do so due to the impact it would have on their career opportunities. Many cited client demands (48 per cent) and financial pressures (62 per cent) with 22 per cent saying that their employer would not agree to a reduction in hours.

Less than half felt they had good female role models at a senior level in their organisation, only five per cent of employers provided financial help with childcare and just 21 per cent gave paid parental leave for family illness or emergency.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the Next 100 Years, said: “The pandemic forced the profession to adopt remote working, a huge change which is making life easier for working mothers. Despite this, the majority are still feeling the strain. There is still some way to go before the profession truly gets to grips with a problem that sees too many talented women unable to progress in their careers or drop out of the law altogether.

“Whilst outwardly supportive, there is still a feeling among the mothers we spoke to that employers treat them differently to their male counterparts and that any move towards more flexible working or part-time hours could have a detrimental impact on their career prospects. We need to see a culture change in the profession, towards valuing outputs rather than inputs, with structural changes that give those with family commitments the ability to thrive and progress.”

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