A recent “Profile of the Profession’ survey by the Law Society found of the 14,000 lawyers in Scotland more reported types of gender discrimination than any other type of workplace discrimination and that the number of incidents hadn’t shifted since their last survey in 2006. I spoke at a launch of the research recently and talked about the myths I see in our work with law firms. The first is that women are not as ambitious as men. In fact, the LSS research showed that promotion was actually more important to women than to men. Women I speak to show great ambition, but often don’t want partnership roles as they are exercised now – with a perceived lack of integrity is some firms and an ‘always on’ mentality. Equally, unconscious bias keeps many out of the top slots as we all favour people who are superficially remind us of ourselves – which is a problem if the top slots are held primarily by white men.
The second myth was that improving flexibility is something we should do for working mothers. Not surprisingly, the research indicated women were more likely to need flexible hours but men more likely to work remotely – showing that being at the office long hours is not a model that suits either modern men or women. Moreover, it entrenches the belief that working mums are a problem to work around rather than recognising that parents and non-parents of both genders demand more flexibility in a world where technology enables it. Lastly, I challenged the assumption that most organisations ascribe to of ‘client being the only king’. Firms often perceive flexibility means being unavailable to clients and is therefore too high a cost of pay. However, the cost, both financial and on morale of ‘managing out’ a senior, well-respected woman can’t always be instantly available, sends a far stronger message to the other more junior women and modern men on the team. Furthermore, it makes you question how good the team is if people can’t manage without a single member of staff for 24 hours, the same way they do when people are sick, on holiday or travelling? Which of these myths do you recognise?