ANDREA TSALAMANDRIS was virtually bursting at the seams when her firm made her partner just one day before she gave birth to her third child. Now, mother and partner, she represents other soon-to-be-mum lawyers wondering where their careers are headed.
In a groundbreaking move by law firm Holding Redlich, the position ‘parenting partner’ has been created to ensure no expectant mums fall through the cracks in the belief that their option was full-time work or nothing. Tsalamandris was handed this title to be a voice for all pregnant mothers in the Melbourne office.
When recent mums don’t come back after maternity leave, despite all expectations, firms face just another in an ever increasing array of factors adding to the talent shortage issue.
Tsalamandris acknowledged that certainly her title is a reaction to the talent shortage, adding that firms don’t want to lose valuable people who would like to stay on in some capacity within the firm.
And it has worked. The program has seen fast results, with 100 per cent of partners who become mothers returning to the firm after finishing their maternity leave.
“A group within the partnership came together when we lost a few women who didn’t return to work after maternity leave. We came up with two ideas, one to have a carer’s room for women who are still breastfeeding. And I expect this is quite common for a lot of firms out there,” Tsalamandris told Lawyers Weekly.
“Second, and as far as I know we are the only firm doing this, was to have a partner being there as a parenting partner to support women.”
At a lunch attended by federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, the federal Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency awarded Holding Redlich the 2006 EOWA Business Achievement Award for the Outstanding Initiative/Result for the Advancement of Women.
The firm’s new Parenting Partner, at least in part, can take credit for this accolade.
“The idea is to have someone within the partnership to be a support and advocate for women as they are entering a fairly stressful and anxious time of their lives. One part of the scheme that is important is that there is a partner being an advocate,” Tsalamandris said.
“If someone is pregnant I will speak to their supervising partner, and if that partner is not personally responsive to the need for part-time work, and has a conservative view, rather than that partner stopping the woman’s wish to have flexible work practices.”
In this case, Tsalamandris gets involved and we have that discussion to ensure that we are all consistently supporting women.
“That is why it’s important, otherwise there can be very traditional views expressed rather than the collective partnership view that the firm should be supportive of women.”
The business needs of the firm are taken into account, said Tsalamandris, “this is absolutely a way to retain talent”.
“When women go on maternity leave and return to work, I am at the firm as their advocate to ensure that their needs are put into practice, and to negotiate their needs on their behalf, in case there needs to be bargaining, and to ensure it works for the practice as well as the women.”
Having collectively decided to introduce a policy that recognises the importance of both family and working life, the partnership agreed that a parenting partner is there to support that policy and ensure it is carried through, she said.
“This shows the firm wants to promote women and that it accepts that women can have a family as well as be career women.”