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The theme for today's International Women's Day – "accelerating gender parity" – will resonate with a legal profession striving to improve its record on gender balance in the workplace.
But my message is: beware two hidden dangers. First, corporate feminism – a label often applied to the brand of feminism ascribed to women such as Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook. This is sometimes criticised as being for rich, white, educated women.
Even the most macho of City law firms will have made progress with their gender statistics of late. However, we need to move beyond thinking that greater representation of women from privileged backgrounds is enough. Replacing Rupert from Kensington with Jemima from Chelsea is insufficient; as a profession we need to be bolder.
Second, we need to nip in the bud any potential for discrimination against men – changed days indeed. Partnership quotas, recruitment targets, female mentoring programmes and flexible working are all very well, yet we need to be fair to others as well as supportive to women.
Flexible working, for example, should be as open to male lawyers who want to spend time with their families as it is to their career-juggling wives. It should be as accessible to those who want to spend time working for their chosen charity as it is acceptable for working parents.
Of course, International Women's Day is important. That we are still talking about gender parity, of a "Women's Day" over and above a dedicated day for men (which does exist by the way and is celebrated in November) shows that there is still more work for us to do. In City of London law firms, high street firms, at barristers' chambers and – as is topical – in the judiciary, there is certainly room for improvement in diversity in the widest sense.
Yet today of all days we must not lose sight of the fact that we should be striving for a time when equality is not just a female issue. The challenge is to tread a path to gender progress while ensuring that we continue to support our equally capable male colleagues and that we continue to receive their understanding as to why parity matters – to our firms, employers and to our clients.
We must also not forget that gender itself is considered less of a binary concept these days. The future must therefore accommodate economic and gender-neutral equality in both aspiration and achievement.
This article was first published in The Brief, 08 March 2017
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