The slogan for this years’ International Women’s Day is ‘Make it Happen’. It resonated with me strongly. It made me realise that while women have made tremendous progress in this country, we need to take control of our future and continue to push for equality and empowerment.
Some people think we’ve already achieved equality – and of course the leaps and bounds that have been made by women over the last 100 years have been phenomenal. However, I definitely believe that there is more that can be done. As women, we need to have equal opportunities and equal pay based on our ability: not our gender. At the moment this is sadly not always the case; and until it is, we are not done.
Just one example is the tricky tightrope many women have to negotiate when they want to have a family. The time that women want to take out from their career to raise a family should not count against them or set their career back. It was only last week that Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative MP for Romford, suggested that Labour MP Rachel Reeves would not be able to fulfil her prospective role in the cabinet as a new mother, implying that having a baby would not allow her to give the job ‘her full attention’. We need to not only remove the stigma that says that becoming a mother makes us any less able to do our jobs, but also make it easier for women to carry on with their careers after children – for example through flexible working, more part time roles, and positive action training schemes.
In my own profession as a lawyer, I still believe that more needs to be done to encourage women into this career path, as there can be barriers that stand in their way. Students entering the profession are expected to train for at least two years full- time, which can be unrealistic for a woman with young children. I did my own law conversion and legal practice course on a part-time basis as I was raising a family at the time. I’d like to see more law firms offering not only part-time training but flexible working hours. It’s something we’ve tried to address at my own firm – allowing our fee earners to work on a consultancy basis, which gives them greater flexibility with their working hours. It’s about giving women the option to have a family and a career. The two needn’t be mutually exclusive.
Having systems in place that enable more women to embark on a law career will not only benefit those who want to get into the profession; diversity in the law is something that will benefit anyone that requires legal services. The individuals who require solicitors and barristers do not all belong to the same gender, race or socio-economic position in society, so why should the people who are elected to represent them? That is why we need diversity – and people from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds and gender – to step up into careers that are traditionally the domain of more ‘dominant’ groups.
As women we have come far, but we still have some way to go. I’d like to see women encouraged to embark on a variety of professions, and to celebrate their success and achievements. I’d like to see more flexible working arrangements and acceptance of women taking time out to have a family, especially in more male-dominated career paths. And, eventually, I’d like to see equality and diversity across every part of society. It’s up to us to make it happen.