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How Clayton Utz is tackling ‘bias and stigma about working parents’

This senior parental leave program is helping Clayton Utz women get to senior leadership positions, according to the head of diversity and inclusion.

user iconLauren Croft 12 April 2022 Big Law
How Clayton Utz is tackling ‘bias and stigma about working parents’
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After receiving a Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) citation, Lawyers Weekly spoke to Clayton Utz about its senior parental leave program and why it’s so important in the profession.

As part of a “refreshed gender equality strategy”, Clayton Utz has recently updated its parental leave policy to remove the distinction between primary and secondary carers. The firm currently pays superannuation on paid and unpaid parental leave and provides support for senior parental leavers, including executive coaching and one-on-one business support – something which Alison Woolsey, director of diversity and inclusion, said was especially important for gender equity.

“We know that women are retiring with less superannuation than men. As an employer, we can help to address that gap by paying super on unpaid care work, and of course improving our organisation-wide gender pay gap and women’s access to leadership and management roles,” she said.


Clayton Utz also rolled out a senior parental leave program, which Ms Woolsey said has been particularly helpful for extra support.

“It’s designed for our very senior lawyers as well as partners, and aims to provide support through the various stages of parental leave: before the individual starts their leave, during the leave period, and on return to work. The support includes having a dedicated ‘support’ partner (or two) who, among things, commits to supporting the parental leaver’s business plan, actively encouraging other partners to work collaboratively with the parental leaver, and in the first six to 12 months after their return to work, supporting and sponsoring them to grow their practice through providing potential opportunities for work in their areas of expertise, for example,” she said.

“Other support provided includes one-on-one sessions with our Clients and Markets team to ensure the parental leaver has an opportunity to continue to be profiled and included on pitches and responses to client tenders, and support for business planning, as well as access to executive coaching before, during and/or post leave.”

A number of Clayton Utz staff have benefited from the program, including special counsel Allison Shannon.

“I have taken three separate periods of parental leave, and the program was introduced and made available to me prior to my third period of parental leave. Through the program, I felt extremely supported prior to, during and after my return from parental leave,” she said.  

“I was given the opportunity, throughout those different stages, to meet with various people within the firm including members of the people and development team, and our senior leadership team to talk through how I was doing and to identify what support I might need. It can be daunting coming back to work from parental leave but the transition was a lot smoother for me knowing that I had that support from the senior people within the firm (not just my immediate partners and team) and that they were also interested in making the transition as easy as possible for me.”

Similarly, senior associate Emma Lampard said that the program had made the transition back to work much easier as a parent.

“I’ve made the transition back to work following parental leave three times now, the last time with the benefit of the program. The program supported both me and my family in adjusting to my return, as well as helping me to rebuild my place in my team and in the firm more broadly, and guiding me with business development and managing working part-time,” she said.

“It also helped me in more personal areas like managing competing priorities, rebuilding confidence and assistance with working from home, setting boundaries, and managing during lockdown.”

The firm implemented the program, Ms Woolsey said, to help get more women to senior leadership positions.

“We conducted some research a few years back which revealed that a real barrier to success for our senior women was their parental leave experience.  In particular, they would lose career momentum through loss of confidence and client relationships when they returned from leave,” she said.

“The program is geared towards tackling any bias and stigma about working parents and ensuring that they felt supported and included.”