It’s been a time of contrast for the fortunes of women in the workforce.
On the one hand, we had Nicola Mendelsohn. Who she? She’s the business high-flyer who is the antithesis of presenteeism. She’s flexible working personified. She is, to put it alliteratively, the three-day weekend woman every week of the working year.
And she’s in the news because she has just been appointed Facebook’s vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa despite, for the past 15 years, insisting upon working just a four-day week so she could see more of her husband and four children.
That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? If she can do it, why can’t women lawyers insist on four-day weeks, too? It would have all sorts of knock-on benefits for law firms, not least improving the retention of talent and countering the drop-off in the number of women lawyers at senior level – when many women opt to leave the profession and put family before career.
It would also make the law a more diverse and fairer profession, with women at the helm of firms and earning the same big bucks as men.
Except, as we have heard over the last few weeks, it ain’t working out like that at all. My colleague John Hyde reported that the proportion of women making partner in Magic Circle firms in 2013 was around 5% down on the previous year. The quintet of firms appointed just 13 women out of 73 promotions to partnership, compared with 24 out of 95 new partners the year before.
He also reported that research published by campaign group the 30% club, which aims to see 30% female representation at partner level by 2020, shows that men are 10 times more likely than women to progress from trainee level to partner at major law firms.
Slater & Gordon employment partner Claire Dawson said that even at law firm partner level there are often disparities in pay between men and women. She said: ‘Law firms’ pay structures are rarely transparent. Are men paid more because they are more prepared to negotiate than women? Are women unwilling to risk rocking the boat by pointing out that male colleagues earn more than they do?’
It’s not only women lawyers who suffer this apparent discrimination. the Independent reported earlier this month that women in financial services earn 20% less than men, with around £14,800 difference in their average base salary.
Samantha Mangwana, who is also an employment partner at Slater & Gordon, wrote to The Independent to point out that an Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry in 2010 found that women’s bonuses in the financial services industry were up to 60% lower than those of men in comparable jobs. Mangwana wrote that taking the size of bonuses into account: ‘The pay disparity is often a six- or even seven-figure sum.’
I’m sorry to disappoint, but getting a job in online media - like Nicola Mendelsohn - isn’t always the solution to getting the flexible hours that a family demands. Merissa Meyer, the boss of Yahoo!, ordered all staff who work away from the office to commute into work - or quit. Apparently she was concerned that staff that worked from home were unproductive compared with colleagues beavering away in a busy office.
The antithesis of presenteeism she is not.
Jonathan Rayner is a reporter at the Gazette
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