Hit the glass ceiling yet…?

Jun 2014

It’s still an important debate to keep at the forefront of any business agenda.

It’s no longer just about the glass ceiling… even if you manage to attain the senior opportunities – you could find that the glass ceiling now comes double, even triple glazed:

  • You might get offered the senior position, but you will get the same pay?
  • Will you get access to the same quality of work upon return from maternity leave?
  • When will firms begin considering flexitime working arrangements as a real options for working mothers (AND fathers)?

However, many women do feel that the glass ceiling is showing some cracks, and that over time, it will come down completely. The number of women in senior management roles has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, but still remains at a very small percentage of overall managers, and of then men are promoted over women, because assumptions are made that women would not carry out certain functions. The reality is that there are fewer women than men in positions of power and influence – leading to men promoting men over women because of invisible bonds that exist, predetermined by whether you use a cubicle or a urinal! Another assessment of women’s inability break through the glass ceiling is that women will fight for everyone but themselves – women need to learn to demand more … men already do.

As far as the legal profession goes, statistics show more female students studying law, and a much higher proportion of young female solicitors to males. So with more women studying and qualifying, then isn’t this the best indicator of cracks in the glass ceiling? According to a Professor of the LSE School of Law Department, ‘the hole in the glass ceiling is so shaped that it is mainly women whose lifestyle characteristics most resemble men’s who achieve higher position’. Isn’t that a sad assessment? This macho culture of working long hours is not easily adaptable to being a working mother. If you cannot guarantee that you will be there to see the deal through to the very end then you may as well bail out now and we’ll get someone (read: male) who is committed to this firm. And here we reach another sad assessment: being a working mother somehow is not compatible with being a dedicated professional.

Going back to statistics they also show that when women are leaving the legal profession when they are having children and a significant number are not returning. The flip side of this according to some is that it reflects the quest for a more balanced quality of life: if returning to work will not deliver the quality of life I seek, then why go back? However, law firms should take care not to assume that all lawyers on maternity leave will not be returning, nor should this be turned into a competition of who can prove herself to be the most super of women. Avoiding stereotyping female lawyers from the outset makes it easier to avoid prejudice.

You’d think a profession filled with smart people could work out for themselves that inequality and discrimination, invisible or not, just doesn’t pay. Law is a conservative profession, which means that change, whilst not impossible and difficult to achieve, can happen.

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