Law firms can be traditional places – and the tendency in an economic downturn is to undo some of the better business practices that have started to permeate over the past few years.
Certainly in terms of flexible working, that would be missing a real business enabler, something that can make a business nimble, allow it to retain its talent and its employer reputation and benefit both now and when the upturn comes – which it will.
Flexible working is one of a number of ways firms can retain more women. The rationale for many firms introducing their flexible working policies started off around some very poor retention figures and a need to make sure women were working through to partnership.
Over 63 per cent of students registered with the Law Society are women, and there are more women entering the profession now than men. There may well be a few years where there are more than enough people in the graduate pool, but speaking personally. I don’t want our firm to have just its percentage share of this pool, but to have the best – and that means working hard in a competitive talent marketplace to get the best to come to us.
And the benefits of flexible working are not only because of women – we know about Generation Y and their aspirations and values. There is speculation that a recession will bring some economic “reality” into this values-driven, self aware and very determined group, but I wouldn’t bet on it!
There is also the fact that the workforce is an ageing one, there are now for the first time more pensioners than children, and the needs and demands of our future ageing workers will equally clamour for more flexibility. If we want the best of our workers, as well as the best workers, the key is agility: agility in thinking about what workers will want at different times in their working lives, and in whether we as businesses want to attract the best of the available work force. Seeing flexible working now as a ‘luxury’ will mean falling behind competitors not only in the UK but on the world stage.
And of course there’s our clients. The public sector has for many years insisted on a more diverse workforce in its suppliers – flexibility is one tool, one thing making this happen. It may be hard to unpick precisely which financial institutions comprise the public sector at the time of writing, but I don’t see the pressure exerted by these clients, and other well run and forward thinking companies, easing off any day soon.
So lets put this in perspective. Yes, there are many important issues that businesses including law firms have to deal with now, and there are many ways particular firms can react. But flexible working is not a ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s the future.
Monica Burch is a partner and ‘diversity champion’ at Addleshaw Goddard