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By Rachel Buchanan
Cherie Blair spoke to the Citymothers networking group as part of their “Speaker Series”, where high profile working mothers share their stories. The event was hosted by the Family Network at Morgan Stanley.
1976 was a milestone for the Bar. It was the first year when the female intake was over 10% (16% were women). Of the 81 barristers that year, 12 were women, and one of those women was Cherie Blair. Today, she remains the only woman of that intake in practice (along with 20 men).
The most recent statistics released by the bar council show that in 2010, while over 50% of barristers called to the bar were women, that figure gradually declines throughout the milestones of a traditional career; fewer than 12% of QCs are women and only 8% of Court of Appeal judges.
That women are still dropping out is a familiar story across the city; the barriers might be unconscious and informal, but they are still there. But what can be done about it? Even three years after graduating on an equal footing, females are likely to be paid 15% less than their male counterparts; in part due to career choices, often made in the anticipation that she will have trouble balancing further down the line.
The solution though lies in the fact that these issues are not just about women. Until we have a scenario where everyone is paid on equal footing and able to seek balance by have a fulfilling career, so far as they want, and a home life, we are never going to reach equality.
And yet how can this be achieved? We need to educate the next generation to prevent this cycle perpetuating.
More flexible workforce for everyone
It is not just women with children who need flexible arrangements; fathers need to have the facility to make difficult decisions and play their part in bringing up their children. It cannot be simply assumed that the mother will be the one to take the lead in the children’s arrangements.
It should not be forgotten that with an ever increasing elderly population, they will also need caring for. This is not just about children, but all members of society who need extra time and care away from their carer’s employment.
Those who don’t have dependents of whatever variety should not have to pick up the slack. They too should be entitled to consider sabbaticals, further training or flexible hours to allow their life to have balance outside of the workplace.
Less pressure on specific parts of the career
Cherie Blair spoke of the years after having her children; she was able to “coast” for a few years, working, maintaining her career but not progressing upwards through the ranks. The few years in this period should not have such a detrimental effect on a potential 50 year career as it currently does.
Better and more affordable childcare
This isn’t the place to go into detail, but the whole system needs to be over hauled to allow all parents the opportunity to return to the workplace if they wish. It should be a choice to remain at home with children, not a purely financial decision. Those taking care of the children should also be paid a fair wage and valued for their work. Perhaps increasing the value that society places on the needs of children would assist?
Women need to know when their actions are reinforcing the system
10 days after the birth of one of Blair’s children, she was back in court. This, she says, was an error. By not accepting that one does need time to recover after giving birth, she was reinforcing the idea that those who take maternity leave are weak, or not career minded.
More effective regulation
The laws which prohibit discrimination are relatively new and perhaps more stringent enforcement of them would help? Encouragement for companies to practice equality and promoting or perhaps even government support for companies that makes commitments to equal opportunities?
Educating the next generation
We can help women see that motherhood is not a job; that it is a relationship and that it is the quality of the relationship which matters, not how many hours are spent with the child. That both parents’ roles are equally important (be they mother/father or any combination thereof) and that job qualities cannot be imposed on either role. That both parents need to support each other and compromise; that working and having a successful – however defined – working life is part of the root of family life.
We can help young men see that they will need to compromise and support the mothers of their children/their partners to achieve this equality. That a job is not life, but merely part of life.
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