I've attended more diversity events than I can remember where discussions often turn to the question of what can be done to help working mothers in law. Yesterday's debate, part of the Law Society's women in law centenary event, felt different. Why? Because a male solicitor in attendance spoke honestly about his regret.
The solicitor told the event that his wife gave up work after they had their first child.
'When I look back, if we had a chance to do it differently, I'm pretty sure we both would make a different decision. As a team we have done fantastically well. We have two wonderful children. But I'm very conscious of the fact that it has put my wife in a different position to the position she would have been had she not done that. I was not influential enough in driving that decision. Looking back on it I look back on that with some regret. Now it's one of the reasons I committed to work one day from home flexibly, to try and set the right sort of example...'
Until men take on equal parental responsibilities, 'it's really prejudicial to the careers of women', he said.
Research by the Trades Union Congress shows that only 1% of new parents eligible to take shared parental leave actually do.
Perhaps we need to think about parental leave differently. Another solicitor told the event that it's unimaginative to think of leave in blocks of time. 'Men will not take blocks of six months off. What they might do is take one day a week off for seven years.'
Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, told the event that the 'baby question' shouldn't be faced by women alone. 'It's everyone's responsibility. We need children. We need the next generation. And the men need them as much as the women do. It should be seen as sharing the challenge, not a problem. For any woman with career ambitions, to have a man who gets it is hugely valuable.'
She thinks male students understand this 'and they would like to have a more egalitarian distribution of roles in their household'. However, she acknowledged that this attitude becomes harder to maintain in the workplace, where it is generally accepted that women may need to take a backseat but men are under pressure to be in the office: 'We can start good but it's difficult to keep it up against massive social pressure'.
Start, however, we must. And the more honest conversations we have about our choices and our regrets, the sooner we can get rid of social pressures.