Gaymer strikes blow for working parents

Janet Gaymer has got 18 months left as senior partner of Simmons, and she’s on a mission. If you put the UK’s top employment lawyer in charge of a City law firm, you’re bound to expect some radical thinking on working practices.

Gaymer wants her firm to embrace flexible working for men and women from the moment they arrive at the firm, up to and including partnership. This means revolutionising the pyramid structure of partnership and solving the perennially difficult problem of giving senior lawyers status even if they aren’t in the equity elite. It also means tackling the general assumption that flexible working is associated with low profitability, which is particularly pertinent in Simmons’ case.

In her initial proposals, Gaymer has been impressed by Richard Collier’s research at the law department of Newcastle University, which focused on the male response to work-life balance. His research shows that men see it as “career suicide to play the quality of life card”. The report continues: “For all the fact that the majority of the men stated that they ideally wanted to see change, only a minority believed that a significant cultural shift within the firms in which they worked would ever be ultimately possible.” Gaymer has got serious backing from new managing partner Mark Dawkins, so she may be able to convince her firm that it’s not just rhetoric.

Although flexible working is not just a gender issue, the fact is women are leaving City firms in droves at the three and four years’ PQE stage. A lot of these women are happy to work all the hours possible in their late 20s and early 30s and see it purely as one more phase in their working lives.

While it is a cultural and economic norm for women solicitors to go part time at a given moment in their careers, Gaymer knows that this issue affects men – particularly during the jittery run-up to partnership. As the Collier report has it: “[There are] a number of profound confusions and uncertainties in relation to perceptions of men’s roles around childcare, domestic labour and what being a ‘good father’ entails… Many of the men are struggling as best they can to meet what they see as competing and at times irreconcilable demands.”

Flexible working is not a male issue or a female issue. It’s a child issue. If Simmons makes any headway with this, all working parents will give Janet Gaymer a cheer.

catrin.griffiths@thelawyer.com