Mothers returning to work – a missed opportunity?
The legal profession very often lags behind other sectors for recruitment practices and HR trends. Firms have tended to be inflexible about hours, reluctant to recruit part time staff and hesitant to offer alternatives to salary increases.
It is not surprising therefore that parents returning to work have traditionally found it difficult to get a suitable position and in a good number of cases have given up trying. Over the past 15 years we have seen a thawing in attitudes towards anyone who has a gap on their CV, but it will still count against a job applicant regardless of the circumstances. For example, quite a few conveyancers have gaps or alternative work on their CVs between 2008 and 2011. Time and again this comes up as a reason for rejecting them for posts, even though it is pretty obvious to all concerned that the candidate was simply trying to survive at a time when conveyancing jobs were virtually inexistent.
Parents returning to work have an even harder job persuading firms to take them back on after a break. Quite often an absence will be about 5-7 years, and at this point mothers (for the purposes of this article assume I am referring to both mothers and fathers!) will still be looking for part time work or flexible hours to enable child care issues to be overcome. Collecting or dropping children off at school is inevitable for most parents and tends to weigh heavily on the mind of candidates at job interviews. More so when the candidate is a returner to work. Mothers are very often nervous about getting back into a job; can they still do the work after all this time out and how will they juggle the work/life balance? This often makes them seem more nervous at job interviews and more particular in their requirements than someone moving straight from one role to the next.
So why is it a missed opportunity? Perhaps it isn’t, but I have noticed the following trend amongst mothers who have gone back to work:
1. They very often do not seem as concerned about salary levels as those who have had a consistent career to date.
2. Benefit packages tend to be considered more carefully, particularly flexible hours and annual leave.
3. Loyalty levels are higher. The returner to work tends to be grateful for the opportunity to get back in again.
4. Levels of experience and ability are quite often higher for a lower salary than another fee earner at the same PQE level. The returner to work will be older (and hopefully that bit wiser!).
5. Returners to work have significant commitments to a particular geographical area and are less likely to be able to relocate to work. This ties them to firms in specific areas and reduces their opportunities to move.
6. Returners to work have strong networks in the areas they are based in which can lead to increased business development potential.
7. Part time and flexible hours returners to work do not seem to do that much less work than full time staff – very often they just cram the same amount of work into a shorter period of time. Think about the time you spend between 3pm and 5pm each day. Is it as productive as 10am to 1pm or considerably less so?
Naturally these are extremely subjective and based on our own experiences. It is true that some parents returning to work have such specific criteria that they will have persuaded any potential employer not to consider them even before they get to interview. Generally however we think that parents returning to work offer significant economic benefits for their firms in the medium-long term.
NB: We know of a legal career coach based in London and Manchester specialising in advising and assisting parent solicitors and legal executives returning to work in the legal profession. For details please contact us.