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I suppose this proves that women just can't stand the heat.........

(243 Posts)
seeker Sun 24-Feb-13 10:23:45


Matsikula Sun 24-Feb-13 14:21:25

AmandaPayne, I think law firms may well have to change their ways, not least because more than half (and rising) of the qualified graduates are women. But I have always thought that the magic circle model is designed by a select few lunatics. I accept that in a few departments like M&A it is hard to avoid burning the midnight oil, but otherwise surely the quality of (and also value for money) work suffers when it is being done by exhausted associates?

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 14:44:50

I wasn't magic circle, but I was City.

There have been a lot of female law graduates for a long time now. When I was training <ahem> in excess of ten years ago, there were more women than men. We all thought that things would change. That all we needed was numbers. Nope. Law firms rely on a massive pyramid. They need lots of people at the bottom to do all the volume work and a few at the top. So it doesn't matter if they lose lots of talent. In fact, the business model requires it. And the ways they measure attainment mean that they don't see the fact that often those they lose might be some of the best. So although they hand wring about female attrition levels, they have no real incentive for change.

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 14:46:45

Sorry, missed a bit.

I wasn't a 'work all night' department. They can work you pretty damn hard before quality drops! What is frustrating is that there is little reward for efficiency. Whether the client is being billed on a time or a fixed fee, your annual targets are still mostly about hours recorded. The person who stays half the night looks like the model employee on paper.

MrsShortfuse Sun 24-Feb-13 15:21:21

I think a more prosaic explanation is that once you have children, you gain a different sense of perspective about life, and you look at all the b*llcks, office politics, absurd expectations, unreachable targets and general sh*te blah blah blah that goes on in workplaces especially highflying environments, and think, 'no thanks!' and you settle for less. I think women are more likely to feel like this than men - or maybe it's more acceptable for women to downshift - and it becomes a vicious circle, I dunno!

blueshoes Sun 24-Feb-13 15:53:21

I agree with Amanda about the magic circle/City pyramid model. The real rewards go to a very lucky (usually male) few. The rest move into less demanding and lower paying jobs and the City law firms don't particularly care and might even encourage it, particularly if these people move to work for a client. But the power (international deals, silly money) go to the few who do make it.

There is no shortage of fresh blood wanting to fill partner boots. There isn't a dearth of ambitious young (often male) people who want to shoot for the moon. The rewards are there.

Why don't more women go for gold?

I work for a global US-based law firm. Funnily enough, they have a ratio of 30% female partners compared to around the woeful 13% for UK magic circle law firms. I was quite surprised to see this. From this small sample, the UK is apparently trailing behind on promoting women. The US has one of the worst benefit packages for maternity leave (my colleague returned after 3 months and that is not unusual) and flexible working. But they promote women more!

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 16:31:34

I think the thing with the US is you are either in or you are out. You can't go part time - pretty much unheard of, no right to ask, you'd probably lose your health insurance and your paid vacation. You take maternity leave for a very short period (and as an interesting aside, maybe this contributes to more people returning, because you don't change pace and your whole leave is spent planning your return).

What I think that means is that those who stick it out compete on a far more equal playing field (though I am under no illusions who bears the burden of nursery pick up time).

But, and it's a big but, I'd be interested to know what their attrition levels are overall - do more women leave the work force with no compromise option.

And another big but, I'm not sure I'd want to live in a society that treated people that way. I think that, long term, the solution is moving to better work life balance, not forcing everyone to hand over every waking hour and their soul to make it.

FloraFox Sun 24-Feb-13 16:37:16

Another legal bod here. When I started the commonly espoused view was that women would succeed in greater numbers as the firms would need to compete for the best talent. Fast forward a goodly number of years and it hasn't happened. Firms don't need to promote the best. They only need a small number of good-enoughs who will put the work in. I agree there are now some issues with fewer people being willing to put themselves in for partnership but I don't see that leading to more women being partners. Firms won't change the long hours culture willingly and generally refuse to acknowledge out loud that this together with child care is a huge part of the problem. I worked with a company in Sweden a while back and it was amazing how openly women and men talked about their child care - usually about whose turn it was to collect the children. It was a small sample I saw but very interesting.

blueshoes Sun 24-Feb-13 16:40:21

But you cannot force everyone to want a better worklife balance.

So long as there are the minority few who are prepared to sacrifice all to reach for the stars, it is hard to justify promoting those who want to adopt a saner model or who take time out during their career, ahead of the hungry ones.

It is in the AngloSaxon countries (UK, US) that people at the top of business have rockstar remuneration. In the US, you might have more female representation at the top because there is less of the flexi time/mummy track dichotomy. In other European countries, you might have more female representation at the top because there is less of a differential between the salaries at the top and bottom of the scales and therefore fewer people (typically male) having an incentive to shoot for the moon leaving others in their wake.

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 16:47:31

What I think will be interesting is whether there are still enough of the 'sacrifice all' types in the next couple of generations. Certainly those coming of age in this economic climate seem rather more cynical about giving that much to a firm (rather than your own business) . If it reaches a tipping g point, those people won't be numerous enough to sustain that model without at least some tweaks. I also hope that the client drive to fixed fee etc might help.

FloraFox Sun 24-Feb-13 16:50:04

I used to be very against quotas thinking that it should always be the best person hired for a job. Now I have a different view. Those who are promoted to senior jobs are not necessarily the best but they are willing to sacrifice their family lives to succeed. I think there is a legitimate societal interest in saying that women should be promoted and quotas would help. Income at the highest level would probably come down but at the moment incomes are historically high. Plateau partners were not making £1m+ a year until 10 years or so ago. They're maintaining it now largely by squeezing the pyramid.

FloraFox Sun 24-Feb-13 16:54:10

AP sadly I think boys' independent schools are still pumping out sufficient numbers who will take up the roles. The number of state educated partners is also lagging badly.

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 24-Feb-13 17:04:38

seeker Re: your earlier comment about this turning into a thread about childcare. I find this happening often - any talk about equality eventually becomes a discussion on childcare. This has the effect of reaffirming the idea that childcare is the woman's responsibility. Isn't it interesting/depressing? In academia, I read that a study found that a single woman with no children still does not do as well on the career ladder than a married man with children. Childcare may be an issue, but it's not everything. There are more factors that we need to think about.

FloraFox Sun 24-Feb-13 17:10:25

I don't agree that our discussing the impact of child care "has the effect of reaffirming the idea that childcare is the woman's responsibility". What's the basis for saying this?

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 24-Feb-13 17:21:47

Men also have children. Why does that not affect their careers? Why is it that a woman without children still don't do as well as a man?

kim147 Sun 24-Feb-13 17:26:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

skaen Sun 24-Feb-13 17:26:14

I have just finished reading Shattered by Rebecca Asher which was very interesting on this and as a disclaimer - I'm another ex- City lawyer!

Having children is known to be a nightmare with childcare and juggling 2careers so a lot of very competent women are opting out before they are married and certainly before having children by choosing jobs or specialisms which are known to be comparatively family friendly rather than necessarily what they really want - e.g solicitor rather than barrister; teacher not academic etc.

Then maternity leave is so long abc the mother still has to take do much of it, that it becomes the easier default for her to continue doing most of the child stuff while the father works and gets to opt in on his terms. Even now it is transferable, take up of paternity leave is low and badly paid if that is also the main family income.

And then employers are suspicious of men asking for flexible working and it is definitely a 'less serious' marker. DH and I take it in turns to look after the children when they're ill. My work just accept it, his work grumble about how it should be my job. (DH and I do exactly the same job for different organisations).

I know what the answers should be, but they're not going to happen!

skaen Sun 24-Feb-13 17:28:42

Men with children look solid and reliable good citizens especially if they do a school pickup once a year or perhaps attend a play.

Women without children are waiting to get pregnant at the worst possible moment for a company and swan off on maternity leave leaving everyone in the lurch. Or they're unnatural ball breakers if they don't want marriage and/or kids.

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 17:32:42

I think the childcare thing is difficult. Yes, the discussion should be about childcare impacting on the careers of both parents. And I do regularly correct women who, in RL, talk about childcare costs coming off their salary.

But the reality is that women opt out of employment, or are underemployed, because of family far more often than men. Improvements to childcare could make a change to women's prospects far more quickly than we are ever likely to get a societal change such that men take the hit from poor childcare options just as often as women.

Re the single women thing, there are obviously lots of other patriarchal issues in the workplace and we shouldn't forget them.

FloraFox Sun 24-Feb-13 17:33:25

Married men with children usually have wives who do most of the child care. That's not to say that child care is the only issue but most women I know with children who are capable of taking on a senior role find it to be the biggest issue. It is not the fact that we talk about it that makes it an issue or makes it worse. That's my point about your post Up

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 24-Feb-13 17:35:05

And I'm not disagreeing that childcare is a major issue. I'm saying that there is more to it than that. But in the equality initiatives I see at work the discussions almost always move to childcare. That also alienates colleagues without children. And equality is more than about childcare, even though that is a large part. And in my job/career, wanting to be with my children certainly affects many of my decisions, and I do not regret any choices I made. I am good at my job but have not had any "progression" since a long time ago. In some ways that is due to my own choices (regardless of childcare). But I am beginning to question what "progression" really means and whether you have to make the "right" choices and whether those "right choices" are biased in any way.

This is a bit vague. I don't have it all very clear in my head yet. But I bloody will have it clearer when I finish reading Delusions of Gender and Why so slow.

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 17:36:50

Delusions didn't help me on this one LordCopper. I found 'Half a Wife' by Gaby Hinscliff quite interesting though. Not a scientific tome, obviously.

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 24-Feb-13 17:38:21

It is not the talking about childcare that makes it worse. It is the discussions being overwhelmingly about childcare that makes it look like it's the woman's problem, and I do see that in RL it often is the woman's problem. I don't have a solution. But I'd like to ask seeker what she(he?!) thinks about it and why she made her comment.

Schooldidi Sun 24-Feb-13 17:38:45

I don't know Upto. I don't know many women without children, and the ones I do know seem to be progressing through their careers just as well as men. Maybe I'm not moving in the right social circles to meet the powerful and successful people.

I'm a teacher and in our school (a large secondary) we have 3 deputy heads, 2 of them are women, the head is a man but the previous head was a woman, the majority of heads of departments in our school are female and half of the heads of years are female too. I genuinely don't see any lack of career progression for women where I work, unless they have children and put their career on the back burner while the children are young. So I can only comment on what I see and the expectation that women will stay at home or go pt while the children are young is the major obstacle I see.

What other factors do you think are at play? I have said before that I just don't know about them so please will you educate me?

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 24-Feb-13 17:40:47

Amanda - according to Delusions it seems that patriarchal issues affect women with children even more than women who don't have children.

Speaking of which best go and feed the children. hmm grin

AmandaPayne Sun 24-Feb-13 17:42:50

School - I think one of the interesting things about schools is that so many of the staff are female. As it is a traditionally 'female' profession (in recent history) there is more of a history of time out and getting back on track. My mother found it pretty easy over thirty years ago to take five years out and go back. I've known women recently do similar (though no idea if that is representative). In other professions, the lack of 'on ramps' is far more pronounced.

Without wanting to harp on about childcare again, not having to cover school holidays can, I think, be a massive help to women's career progression.

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