The power of conversation
A personal view of the benefits of workplace networking groups to support working parents and carers
Hardly a day goes by without another newspaper article or statistic about the challenges of being a working parent, the rise in sex-related discrimination in the workplace, and the ever persistent gender pay gap. As a caregiver, it is hard, at times, to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Happily, a recent train encounter and the metaphorical journey I have been on since then have reminded me never to underestimate the power of conversation to challenge norms and to bring about change, for the good of all.
As a partner in a leading law firm and one who works flexibly, I know only too well the challenges for working mothers as they seek to balance caring responsibilities with work demands – determined not to let a ball drop, to be nothing less than perfection when it comes to work or home, but with a feeling of constant guilt about never being quite brilliant (or even just good!) enough on either front.
Law firms, until now, have tended to be male dominated partnerships, with the legal sector averaging a median gender pay gap of around 26.6%, compared with the national average of 18.4%. This is in stark contrast to the high level of female entrants to the profession – estimated to be over 60%.
A few months ago, on a delayed train to work, I met a colleague in another team and we struck up conversation. She had not long returned to work after maternity leave following the birth of her much longed for second child, and returning to the full time role and team she loved was proving challenging. I shared my own experiences of returning to work after two periods of maternity leave, the challenges I had faced and the things that had helped me to overcome those. We both pondered momentarily how great it would be to have a networking group within our firm for working parents and carers to support each other, and to share ideas and good practice from within the firm.
Catalyst for change
Fast forward three months, and we have set up monthly parents and carers networking groups within each of our offices. The focus of these is to discuss how best to support working parents and carers within our firm. Partners and staff are invited to attend, and uptake has been superb. Nominated champions run the sessions in each office and help to set agenda according to how discussions in each office evolve.
Topics for discussion, so far, have included day to day challenges for working parents and carers, and ideas for resolving or reducing the impact of those challenges, the sharing of caring responsibilities across families and the difficult topic of baby loss. Partners and staff have contributed positively, respectfully and openly – awareness is being raised, pre- or misconceptions (respectfully) challenged, understanding increased, perceptions changed, positive practice highlighted and promoted, and ideas for change generated and actioned. Feedback from partners and staff has been excellent – our partners are keen to support and to understand the issues our staff face, which in turn helps increase employee engagement and drives confidence for employees to contribute.
Change can be challenging for some, and lasting, meaningful change takes time and effort – bottom up and top down. In today’s difficult world, our parents and carers networking sessions have been a welcome reminder never to underestimate the power of respectful, supported and open dialogue to raise awareness, challenge norms and to bring about lasting change.
Morag Moffett is a partner with Burness Paull LLP