Inspire Inclusion ... what does that mean to you?

On this, International Women’s Day (IWD), it’s important that we reflect on its theme and imagine a world where there is no gender inequality, and where opportunities are open to all.

There is no doubt that progress has been made and that more organisations than ever before are taking policies seriously, not just introducing them as a box ticking exercise.

Balancing work life and having a family is a significant factor for many women. The issues I touch on of course impact working dads and well as working mums, but the evidence still suggests that more women tend to take maternity leave as opposed to parental leave shared with their partners, they are often the ones to dash from the workplace when the nursery calls because their child is unwell, and they are often the ones to cut their working hours after maternity leave.

Despite progress being made, many women still feel the pressure of societal expectations that they should be the ones to devote the time to bringing up the children at the detriment of their careers and those expectations have often been engrained in girls from a young age.

Aside from any pressure women may feel, many will also of course want to take the lead in childcare responsibilities. That’s where the balance must be struck. We can’t make presumptions either way, but the culture must be there to allow those choices to be made. More than just a case of simply ratifying and introducing policies, the wider culture must exist around them to ensure they are implemented with real intent and meaning.

According to the Law Society of Scotland’s Profile of the Profession report (2023), over 60% of members thought gender equality in the legal profession had improved since 2018 while 2% believed it had regressed.

Over 60% of LLB graduates in Scotland are female, while 57% of lawyers enrolling in 2022/23 with the Law Society of Scotland are women.

However, with regards to wages, 61% of males who qualified six to 10 years ago earned £60k+, as opposed to 35% of females. This shows the gender pay gap still exists and work is still needed to improve transparency of pay structures.

A significantly higher proportion of female respondents have considered leaving the profession than males in the last five years for reasons other than retirement (49% of females vs. 32% of male respondents). To address the loss of women in our profession, I believe that the ability for working parents to balance their responsibilities is crucial. I am of the view that flexible working options where they are practicable) have a significant part to play supporting parents to achieve that balance.

In my experience, lawyers tend to be fairly driven and focused from early on – get good grades, study hard to get your law degree, excel in a traineeship and develop in their career – there tends to be a lot of focus on that career path. Then at a certain stage in life, you can see that conflict emerge in many, that sense of feeling torn between their careers and their families. For many women, we see that classic scenario of feeling as though they are not doing either job as well as they want to.

Our industry is tough, with high demands and the same can absolutely be said of parenting. I’ve seen many women feel crippled with guilt about trying to do it all. Much of that comes from carrying the mental load – whether that be knowing what’s needed on what day at school, what time Scouts starts, getting organised for meals, etc. When it comes to equality for working women in parenting I think we need to see more equality when it comes to the mental load.

Menopause is another area where women experience huge challenges. In my career I have acted for women who have reached a certain stage in life and have lost confidence and struggled with the impacts of the menopause.

They have not felt able to speak up about what they are going through and have ended up being subjected to performance management processes. Again, thankfully we are seeing some improvement in this area. However, it’s still not always recognised that women do not just suddenly become ineffective at their jobs, but they are grappling with the mental and physical challenges associated with the menopause.

They are entitled to support and where it is given, talented and experienced women are retained and not lost to the workforce. We must ensure that we recognise the impact of the menopause, how debilitating it can be and support women to ensure we don’t lose good people from organisations.

We need role models within firms to say, ‘I have gone through that’, using policies in the right way and empowering women to fulfil their career potential, not marginalising them and pushing them out.

Here at Aberdein Considine, we are proud of our policies and culture, but we are constantly reviewing these to make continual progress. In our Partner and equivalent roles, 22 out of 53 are women (41%).

Today, we have decorated our branches and encouraged staff to strike the IWD pose to mark the day and what it means to us.

International Women's Day imagines a gender equal world – a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #InspireInclusion.

IWD is one of the most important days of the year to:

  • Celebrate women’s achievements
  • Educate and awareness raise about women’s equality
  • Call for positive change advancing women
  • Lobby for accelerated gender parity
  • Fundraise for female-focused charities

We can all challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion. So, strike the #InspireInclusion pose to show solidarity as true inclusion comes from the heart.