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The law changed recently so that now, after two weeks of compulsory maternity leave, new parents have 50 weeks to split between them in any way they wish, whether this be both parents together or taken separately.
I met a client in a Manchester law firm for coffee recently and was interested to learn that they offer 3 months paid paternity leave. I thought this was great, particularly as there is currently no legal requirement for employers to match their shared parental leave benefits to any enhanced maternity rights that they currently offer their female employees. So far this has only been taken up by some large employers like the Civil Service, Citigroup, PWC, Shell and a few City law firms. http://www.independent.co.uk/
Can this work in the law? Many male lawyers perceive that if they take a period of paternity leave any longer than the standard 2 weeks, they will be seen as taking their foot off the career ladder. There is a genuine fear that any substantial period of time off after the initial ‘congratulatory’ two week period on their new arrival, they will be side-lined for future promotion prospects.
This is interesting as it highlights a pertinent point; do the very same male lawyers fearful of taking extended paternity leave then share the view that their female counterparts are not taken seriously after a period of maternity leave?
Clearly this is still the case. Therefore I think in law firms, sharing leave after having a baby would go a long way to redress the sometimes negative attitude given to those taking time out of a hard fought, long invested career as a lawyer to spend time with their new baby. This sentiment of long term career investment surely does not apply any less to a female lawyer than her male counterpart.
It is consistently highlighted that the issue of ultimately addressing inequality within law firms, particularly getting more women to partnership level, is not at the initial stage of entering into the profession but to retain this female legal talent at a senior level. http://www.bcllegal.com/the-brief/. If both parents are lawyers, which can often be the case having met at law school or in the work place, we should be starting to address the balance of inequality that is triggered by the point at which the female lawyer decides to have a baby, when she is then seen as taking her foot off the career ladder.
There is a long way to go but the more law firms that offer enhanced shared parental leaves packages, and actually promote more men internally to take up shared parental leave may pave the way to more women in the profession at a senior level becoming a reality.