HAVING A CHILD is no longer an impediment to promotion within an increasingly large number of firms, which have broadened their way of thinking when it comes to retaining their top people in this increasingly talent-short market.
Managing partner and CEO of Freehills Gavin Bell was eager to ensure there was “no institutional reason” preventing women from progressing in their careers.
Bell pointed to the industry-wide problem that many women simply didn’t want to pursue a career to partner at the expense of other aspects of life. However, Bell said that this no longer meant forsaking the chance of becoming partner.
“For the industry, there has been an issue for keeping women throughout their career, and that’s something that we’ve focused on heavily. Making sure that there are appropriate career paths for women coming through the firm … that means being flexible across their career, recognising that they may need different approaches at different times of their career, but making sure there aren’t institutionalised reasons that they don’t progress at the same rate as men do,” said Bell.
Putting its money where its mouth is, as of July 1 this year, Freehills made one of its female senior associates partner two weeks prior to going on maternity leave. The partner in question is expected to return to the firm on a part-time basis.
Barry Frakes, a partner at family law firm Watts McCray, told Lawyers Weekly that it determined which individuals had shown a commitment to the firm and had the necessary acumen, then it returned the favour.
“We invited Jackie Vincent to become a salaried partner, even though we knew full well she was about to go on maternity leave. She had already made it quite plain that her plan was to take 12 months off, which was fine. We asked ourselves whether it was worth making her partner when she got back, but we wanted to offer her the partnership now, as it sends a message. We thought this was an important step,” he said.
Watts McCray had also appointed Keira Tyson as a senior associate. “She had just returned from maternity leave after having her first child, and we thought so much of her that we wanted to make her senior associate. We then offered her partnership and she soon told us she was pregnant. She finished at the firm last week and has now gone on maternity leave.”
The firm has six partners: four equity, two non-equity. Three of them are women under the age of 35 with children. Two of them are on maternity leave and one has just returned.
“There is a generational change and we have embraced it because the people within our firm want a balance of family life and a strong career path.”