Half of working mothers in the law are taking on more childcare responsibilities than their partners during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to a survey conducted by the team behind the First 100 Years project.
Of the 900 women who responded to the coronavirus survey this month, 350 answered questions about school children.
Nine in 10 respondents had taken on extra childcare and homeschooling responsibilities, with a third forced to reduce their working hours to juggle everything. Half of respondents said they were taking on more childcare responsibilities than their partners; 73% were finding the situation hard to juggle.
One law firm partner said all staff at her firm, except the partners, had been furloughed, ‘so I am working at home around the clock whilst having to juggle a four-year-old and an ill husband. It is exhausting and at the same time I am dealing with the reality that the firm just may not survive this’.
An in-house lawyer said: ‘I am the only female solicitor in a team of five. The other solicitors' partners manage the homeschooling for their children but I have only been able to manage my workload by working early morning and late evening. I don’t want to stand out as having performed more poorly than my male colleagues if there are redundancies later but I don't know how long I can keep it up. I am completely exhausted and there is no end in sight.’
Women without children felt they were expected to pick up extra work to cover for colleagues with young families. One barrister said she was one of the few people in chambers able to continue to go to court. ‘The pressure is immense. It felt like I became responsible for bringing new work into chambers overnight, and that I didn’t have a good reason for not accepting work. I’m exhausted.’ Women who did not have children spoke of feeling isolated.
The survey was conducted by The Next 100 Years, the next project from the team behind The First 100 Years which charted the journey of women in the law since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.
Solicitor Dana Denis-Smith, founder of both projects, said the survey shows that women in the profession are being hit hard by the pandemic. ‘Many are attempting to do the impossible and there is a reluctance to admit they are not super women,’ she said.
On the potential for increased flexible working, although the current situation was less than ideal Denis-Smith said it showed how easily it can be done ‘if firms are willing to embrace it’.