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Report finds women in legal jobs could be held back by lack of maternity facilities

Posted by: Laurence Simons 06/08/12

Maternity leave packages retain the best talent.

At least once a week, a man in a lofty position and with a cigar and tufty eyebrows will lean back in his leather chair and go, "so where are all the women in in-house legal positions?" He looks around, he asks all the men in the room. “Where are all the ladies?"

And in between government-enforced women in boardroom rules and encouraging more promising female undergraduates to pursue law, one legal research group might have gone some way to explaining where all the ladies are: they are at home, looking after children. According to a Rainmaker survey, the facilities in place at major law firms in India aren't sympathetic enough to working mother's needs, leading more of them to drop out.

But why? At Indian law schools, the rate of women graduating is roughly the same as their male conterparts, but by the time partnership rolls around the balance is off-kilter. As Live Mint reports, just 55 of the 241 advocates on record in the country are women, showing that equality dwindles the higher up the ladder you go. "The assumption that the workplace is a gender neutral place is flawed," said report co-author Swagata Raha. "While women pointed family responsibilities as being a barrier in career advancement, the real barrier is the absence of policies at the workplace that address the needs and requirements of working parents."

So, want to keep your top female employees? Well, a start would be to make your firm more baby-friendly. Buy a crèche,  put a bottle steriliser in the rec room and load up the vending machine with folic acid. It could be the difference between being a leading law firm and being, bluntly, 'a really terrible law firm'.

And that goes for the UK, too. As data published today revealed the quality of maternity packages offered to legal professionals in Britain varies sharply across the country and between firms, with top Magic Circle firm Freshfields leading the way just ahead of Linklaters and Clifford Chance.

"We believe that to attract and retain more of our talented women we need to make the transition for those leaving to go on maternity and those returning to work as smooth as possible," said Freshfield London HR head Jill Hoseason.