Following 10 months of maternity leave I returned to work just over a year ago and at the time wrote a blog setting out my initial thoughts and feelings.
Now that I have been back for a full year I revisited my earlier blog to see what had changed, if anything. In all honestly my feelings have not changed a great deal and I think this is because my firm is just as supportive and progressive as it ever was (and perhaps even more so). That’s not to say the juggle between home life and work life is easy, far from it. There are times when the balance can seem difficult to achieve – a big case and a sick child don’t easily mix – but my colleagues are always there to offer emotional support and practical help when needed. I am sure it makes it easier that so many of us have young families and understand all too well just what that means in terms of pressure and juggling different commitments. In terms of my immediate team we all try to work together to ensure that a team means just that – we look out for each other and help when we see someone is struggling; whether that means reallocating tasks to lighten the load or simply looking after a matter temporarily when that person is out of the office. Despite frequently finishing my Thursday evenings with lots of “could you just…” and “would you mind doing…” nobody complains (at least to my face!) and they know how to contact me if they need to while I am out of the office.
I also think it is important to say that I think there are challenges around work/life balance whether you have children or not. Traditionally parts of the legal industry have promoted the idea that working longer hours and sacrificing your home life is the way to achieve success. However, Gilson Gray is really going to great lengths to challenge that and to promote the idea that you can still achieve success with hard work and a supportive team while also looking after other areas of your life. Over the last two years we have had two Away Days as a firm – this years was focused on all aspects of wellbeing including how to promote awareness around mental health in the workplace. We have also set up a Wellness Committee to ensure that the points raised at the Away Day are actioned. Clearly this is a further development in terms of the firm ensuring that we are not simply paying lip service to being supportive and progressive. I have been asked to join this Committee and am looking forward to getting more involved in this aspect of firm life.
I work 3 days a week at the moment, a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. However, my firm’s incredible flexibility was highlighted last summer when a family member was unexpectedly unwell which resulted in them being unable to look after my little boy as usual. There was no issue with swapping days temporarily to ensure I had childcare available. There have also been instances where I have had to leave early if my son is sick for example and there is never any negativity or bad feeling when this happens which is something I really appreciate. Clearly, there has to be give and take – there are occasions when I work in the evening or on days when I am not in the office if there is something urgent required but this is never a problem when I know that my colleagues are so understanding when I need it.
Finally, in my returning to work blog I suggested that having a family was not the hindrance to career progression that it might have once been. The fact that I have recently been promoted to Associate has confirmed this. In my view, while there will always be days when we feel like we are managing to be great lawyers and great parents at the same time there will equally always be days when we feel like we are just managing to keep our heads above water. However, in light of my recent promotion, I stand by my statement that having a family is not the hindrance to career progression that it might once have been and, in fact, with a supportive and progressive firm behind you it is something that is extremely achievable – and enjoyable!
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The information and opinions contained in this blog are for information only. They are not intended to constitute advice and should not be relied upon or considered as a replacement for advice. Before acting on any of the information contained in this blog, please seek specific advice from Gilson Gray.