Some women continue to face a wide range of challenges and inequality in the workplace. As International Women’s Day 2020 approaches, we asked three senior professionals at Thompsons for their take on the present and future challenges women can face in the workplace.

Unintended consequences to good intentions

Clare Mellor is Operations Director at Thompsons Solicitors. She is a Member (partner) and sits on the firm’s Executive Board. Clare is responsible for driving forward innovation and development, ensuring Thompsons retains its position as a top legal firm in its area of law. 

“When considering challenges women face in our sector, it’s interesting to note that initiatives designed to increase diversity - such as the Flexible Operating Hours pilot in civil and family courts - may have had unintended consequences for those women who are primarily responsible for childcare in their family units.

“While the court opening hours may be more flexible, paid for childcare has not moved in the same direction and is often limited to strict time parameters that put those affected under increased personal and professional pressure.

“Thompsons prides itself on providing opportunities for women at all levels within the firm, and throughout their careers. Facilitating flexibility for all employees continues to be a priority but across the legal profession and as a society, we’re not there yet. Much more needs to be done to ensure the wider social infrastructure actively supports equality and equal opportunity in the workplace.

“We will continue to implement progressive policies and explore initiatives that support our employees’ career progression and work-life balance. Alongside that, we’ll continue to use the full weight of our legal expertise to fight on behalf of clients who suffer discrimination or victimisation in the workplace.”

Wearing trousers was a dismissible offence

Jackie Molloy is the Head of Human Resources; she is responsible for HR and learning functions and ensuring delivery of the firms’ People Strategy. Jackie works with a team of HR professionals to deliver proactive people solutions across all aspects of human resources, learning and development at Thompsons.

“In my first role as an office junior in a small local law firm, it was a dismissible offence to wear trousers to the office. Thankfully those days are behind us, however, working women still face many challenges.

“From a social and statutory perspective, the woman is often still seen as the main, or default, provider of childcare: as a result, I believe women can be hindered either through self-limiting beliefs or the stark realities associated with managing a professional career and caring needs.  

“Thompsons wants to buck that negative trend. We’ve promoted women on maternity leave, introduced flexible start and finish times in recognition of individual needs and we pay our male and female employees equally for parental-related time off.  

“As a society, it’s time to accept that our future depends on the continuation of the human race. We must legislate to provide true equality and to enable those who want to, to pursue their careers alongside having a family. Only then will the social narrative catch up.” 

Inspiring the next generation to take the lead

Caroline Underhill is a Member (partner) and National Head for Equal Pay at Thompsons. She is responsible for overseeing the firm’s equal pay teams, running over 60,000 claims per year including landmark cases up to, and including, the Court of Appeal. In 2020, she represented journalist Samira Ahmed on her successful equal pay claim, achieving a landmark victory that fired a warning shot to the BBC that complacency around pay inequity was unacceptable.

“Many of the challenges women will face in the future will reflect the same battles they have had in the past: equal pay, equal treatment, dignity and freedom from harassment, a sensible way of combining rewarding work with caring for loved ones and job security or, at the very least, safety and fairness at work. 

“Women in trade unions have been at the forefront of facing these challenges in the past and will continue to do so. I hope this will inspire new generations of women to take the same lead.”

Join the conversation. Share your thoughts on issues affecting women in the workplace using #IWD2020. To learn more about Thompsons and what we stand for, visit our about page. If you’re interested in joining a forward-thinking law firm, visit our careers page to understand more about life at Thompsons.