The approach to diversity and inclusion varies from business to business. There is no common standard or a one size fits all, with each sector and companies that sit within those trying to carve out their own strategies and policies that have meaning aligned to the corporate ethos, employees, customers, and community alike.

Interestingly, the legal sector, which has historically been a largely male dominated profession, is making strides to address gender disparity in the profession, and some are being surprisingly reactive to lawyers needs under lockdown.

Whilst each firm has its own role to play, legal directories are also key to influencing and affecting change in the sector too. In a recent article from The Legal 500, they state: “…when it comes to improving diversity in the legal profession, The Legal 500 has an important role to play in increasing inclusion and being part of the discussion around it”.

The professional profile and ranking of a lawyer within legal directories hold vast importance for career boosting opportunities. Recognition in such directories can come with frustration for many lawyers who feel they are repeatedly overlooked, while their peers are routinely recognised. The Legal 500 say: “…frustration is justifiably more significant if there are concerns that the omission is due to differences in gender, race, or any other aspect of diversity.”

The promotion of diversity and inclusion should be championed from the top down. Lawyers in senior positions are key influencers and role models for juniors. Likewise, law firms and directories in the legal sector should do more together to promote diverse talent and recognise individuals for their achievements. This not only benefits career and personal progression but benefits prospective clients who actively seek diversity in their legal representation.

Statistics within many firms are demonstrating positivity toward gender balance, with better female representation across practice areas that have been typically male dominated. However, it is important to remember that gender diversity works both ways. Legal firm Irwin Mitchell, with 56% of its ranked London lawyers being female, is now actively trying to recruit men for some of its practice areas to improve and maintain the gender balance. They attribute the large number of female partners and role models within the firm to their family-friendly policies.

Other companies notably addressing the family-friendly approach are A&O, DWF and Eversheds Sutherland, who have concerns about the pressures on employees working from home in the latest lockdown with family, care, and schooling commitments. This is being done through enhanced leave and provisions for employees who need to take time off for caring purposes.

According to the ONS, during the first lockdown (and overall, in 2020) women spent 65 percent more time on childcare than men.

Legal sector addressing diversity. ONS stats on minutes spent on childcare in the pandemic lockdown 2020.

Additionally, recent research by The Lawyer, it was reported that female partners were far more likely to be handling a heavy workload and childcare in comparison to male counterparts in firms. The research found “Some 25 per cent of female partner parents regard themselves as the primary carer, compared to just 6 per cent of men with children who say the same. In fact, even when the female partner earns more than her spouse, she is still more likely to be the primary carer in a two-parent family.”

A&O is offering all parents an additional period of five days emergency paid leave, with flexibility on how this leave can be allocated. The start of the pandemic also saw the introduction of coaching for employees with care responsibilities and those managing individuals and teams who may require further work/life flexibility. A parent buddy scheme is also provided for those who have taken maternity or paternity leave, although this has been done virtually during the pandemic.

DWF has increased its carers leave policy from half a day to one and a half days and has also encouraged conversations with managers regarding the need for flexibility and alternative working practices. A working from home operating model for admin and secretarial staff is also planned for after the current lockdown measures are relaxed.

Following on from the lockdown announcement, Eversheds Sutherland has also offered staff enhanced provisions for care purposes, to include enhanced paid emergency leave, enhanced holiday, and flexible working.

While these are great strides in looking after employee welfare, should these firms be concerned about potential discrimination against those employees who are not parents, or those who have alternative care requirements? Are firms committed to being fully inclusive? Are firms at risk of losing female employees because of the imbalance in care and workload pressures?

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