THE BLOG

Women in the City: Changing the Leopard's Spots

06/12/2015 00:29 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 10:12 GMT

I recently gave the keynote speech at the Women in the City Awards Lunch, an amazing event celebrating the incredible achievements of women and men who are working hard to change the face and culture of the city.

However, a large part of my speech focused on the fact that, although we talk a great deal about how to encourage women to 'lean in', we need to look at the bigger picture because otherwise the changes will be minimal. There are four main areas where we have the ability to change the game for all women, so more women can stay in work, reach senior positions and start businesses.

1. What should we really be valuing?

Let's look at some stats: over 55% of women accounted for higher education placements in the UK in 2014. Then, as we enter the workplace and look at the top positions, we see that only 8.6% of women are executive directors in the FTSE 100 with 28.5% taking up non-executive director places. How is this possible?

It is time we start to change the "value structure" like we have done at Halebury: to value output not hours and to formalise how we value management aspects and emotional intelligence. If you are purely valued on the amount of time you put in at your desk and the money you directly generate, which is what law firms continue to value, how can "time-strapped" working mothers climb up the ladder without either never seeing their children or having a breakdown?

2. The new future of work?

The law firm structure, like many corporate structures, was established during a period when men wore bowler hats and at a time when it would be acceptable to fire a women because she was pregnant. We have of course made great strides on women's rights since then.

However, we are in a new world order with many corporate entities working 24/7, and at the same time our logistics have become more complicated, encapsulating everything from childcare issues to commute times. So what does "the future of work", mean for your teams? In my view, working one day a week from home is becoming an expectation. Modern day flexible working should mean the ability to determine when you work and where. Our business model is entirely based on flexible working where 100% of our team work flexibly; whether full days or part days, from home or client sites. Ultimately it is up to the lawyer and the client how they work best and we resource work accordingly. This is the future of work for our team.

3. Supporting working families.

I recently read that statutory maternity pay is less than minimum wage. This, together with the increased cost of childcare and the lack of childcare options, means that many women either have to come back to work earlier than they are ready to do so or they cannot come back at all due to the economics.

I started my legal career at the age of 25. I left paid employment and started Halebury when I was 33 and although it was not generating much revenue, it was a trading business. Like most business owners I paid our employees, but I did not receive much of a salary myself, so I was not eligible to receive statutory maternity pay. Who can afford to take that risk?

I recently saw a Ted Talk by Jessica Shortall. It was a great talk about maternity leave in the US, but it applies to the UK too. Our maternity pay system is out of date and our childcare system is lagging behind. If we want women to stay in work, to reach senior positions, and to start businesses, we need provide full paid leave for women and men without exceptions for length of service, level of income and also for entrepreneurs. We need to support working families during the short period of time they need an intense period of childcare and funding.

4. And finally, how do we inspire the next generation?

When I look back at my days as a junior lawyer, one of the main reasons I left was because I looked around and I saw very few senior women who were married with children and the ones who were faced numerous issues. I know life in the City over the last 10 years has changed, but I think it is hard for women looking to rise up the ranks to see how much some women in leadership have had to sacrifice to achieve their position.

I have absolutely no criticism regarding how other women operate. I start work at 4am every day; there is no judgment. Essentially, if the women at the top have had to sacrifice everything; their house, their time, their savings and their family time to make it to the top, many will not aspire to follow.

However, if their skillsets are valued, they have control over their lives and their outputs are valued on more than just hours, there is a better chance of more women wanting to join the existing leadership. We need role models with sustainable lives that women can aspire to.

We are making great strides, but we need to stop playing around the edges to ensure we have real and sustained change.