Business & Economy

Wednesday, 16 March 2016 15:11

SA Law Firm launches Maternity Support Programme - a first for the legal fraternity

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Achieving work-life balance can be very difficult, even more so for working mothers in the professional services environment.

In approaching this challenge, Sally Hutton, Managing Partner at Webber Wentzel, last week announced the launch of its Maternity Support Programme - the first South African law firm to do so - which forms part of the firm's comprehensive gender strategy.

As the name suggests, the programme is designed to support the firm's female staff in successfully managing the critical milestone of starting a family and the important transition that this brings within the context of their professional lives.

Webber Wentzel recognises that the challenge for corporate law firms lies not only in attracting female talent but importantly, in their retention, particularly at senior levels. It is for this reason that the firm has increased its focus on development, advancement and the engagement of women within the firm.

In essence, the programme seeks to support female employees before, during and after their maternity leave to facilitate their integration back into the firm.

"In our experience, this is a particularly vulnerable time when, without adequate support, women often make the decision to exit the workplace completely - not realising how final these decisions can sometimes be," explains Hutton.

"With well over 50% of our legal services staff being female, maternity leave has become ordinary course in our firm and we believe that excellent maternity leave benefits and flexible working arrangements are key," she says.

In this regard, the firm has been actively developing a Gender Strategy that is aligned with its talent management framework and Transformation Action Plan, and the Maternity Support Programme is one of the strategies to retain its working mothers.

Hutton adds: "We are confident that the Maternity Support Programme will assist in strengthening our talent pipeline and deepening our gender diversity. It is a positive step forward in providing a more supportive work environment for our women."

Participation in the programme, which will be run by expert maternity coaching consultants, Great Expectations, will be voluntary but strongly encouraged..

As a mother of three who has broken through the gender barriers of the legal profession to become the first female Managing Partner at a major South African law firm, Hutton has played an instrumental and catalytic role in driving the firm's gender diversity strategy.

Exactly a year into this challenging role, Hutton's unwavering commitment to gender transformation has already brought about  changes in the firm's gender profile, as evidenced by the following statistics:

  • - The total legal services staff complement is 403. Of this, 223 (56%) are women,
  • - Highest female equity partnership of any major South African law firm (35%), which exceeds the global target threshold of 30%.  With Hutton at the helm, the firm has committed to push this target to 50%.
  • - A notable change in the representation of women in the firm's leadership structures, with an impressive increase in number of women occupying leadership positions across all areas of the business.  in the year since Hutton took office the number of women on the Board has increased from 30% to 33%, the number of women on the  Executive Committee is up from 40% to 50% and  50% of all business services Heads of Department, including the firm's Chief Financial Officer, are women, up from 40% in February last year.

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