Rachael Mann talks to Sally Gwilliam, Senior Employment Solicitor at Alpaca about work and family life balance during the pandemic and the impact and increased use of video calls. Pre-pandemic Alpaca already had a fully flexible working policy, years ahead of many, yet Sally reflects on the impact the pandemic has had on the further use of technology with clients and how this can be a game changer going forward, particularly for working mums amongst other things.
I don’t think there’s any denying that most women (in law or otherwise) typically take on more pressure to juggle work and family life, and I expect in a lot of cases this just “happened” without any acknowledgement or discussion with their partner or employer. I’ve read a number of worrying articles on this over the last 12 months and I think we have to accept that equality is still some way off. However, in terms of a lasting effect from the pandemic for Women in Law, focussing on the positive, I do really believe that the use and acceptance of technology as an alternative to face to face meetings will be a game changer. The technology for video calls, screen sharing and virtual events has been around for years but now it is encouraged by most firms and by clients, I do think it will make working from home as normal and accepted as coming into the office (for both men and women). I also think it will mean that for senior and global roles in firms where perhaps women didn’t apply because of the clash between travel and their child caring responsibilities, they can and will do now because much more of the role can be done from their desk.
For me, the biggest challenge had to be those first few months of lockdown. As an Employment Lawyer, I was incredibly busy advising worried clients on the furlough scheme, with new guidance coming out on a weekly basis, more often than not on a Friday evening at 5pm! I also had two children aged 6 and 9 to home school and a husband who owns an events company trying to work out if the business he had spent the last 15 years building was going to survive. It was stressful. I have two huge positives that came out of it though. First was the fact we all got through it intact and more than that, I love the fact that as a family we spend more time and eat more meals together than we ever have. The second is that I made a great choice in working for Alpaca. Flexible working is something that has always been encouraged way before the pandemic hit, but these working practices meant it was easier to transition during lockdown and I never had any “chargeable hours” pressure which was invaluable!
I read something about half way into the first lockdown, which rang true with me – “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” It’s so true and I wish it’s something I’d taken on board from the beginning of 2020 so when the pandemic did hit then rather than feeling I was doing everything badly, I focussed on doing less things well.
For me, it’s not about policies or packages, its about the genuine ethos and culture of the business. There’s no point in having a flexible working policy written down if it’s still seen as something women use for when they come back from maternity leave. It’s got to be used for men and women and for any reason so it is seen as a part of working life. This is the only way there really will be a balance of work and life and no bias (conscious or otherwise) against women.
Definitely seeing friends and family with no restrictions and going on holiday somewhere (anywhere) sunny!