Flexibility retains female partners

by 30 Sep 2008

THE PERCENTAGE of female partners employed in law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques has risen from 17 to 22 per cent in five years and is growing, due to a series of innovative retention strategies.

Changes to flexibility, maternity leave benefits and programs for both males and females has led to increased retention of the law firm’s biggest risk sector in terms of retention.

“A lot of organisations are realising, as we do, that if two thirds of your graduates are women, this is a business critical issue and you simply can’t ignore it,” said Kate Rimer, executive director of people and development at Mallesons.

Rimer, who is due to speak at the Human Resources 2008 national conference in Melbourne in October will tell delegates how services such as emergency childcare, devising strict meeting time policies, and workshops such as “partners, work and family”, has helped retain their “most at risk group” in terms of retention – high-potential senior associates and new partners.

“We endeavour not to have meetings outside nine to five – and certainly outside school holidays – for any major firm events,” she said. “People really appreciate it and there is quite a lot of noise from partners if we accidently organise something during school holidays.”

Childcare at onsite conferences and emergency childcare for staff is increasingly being used by both male and female employees, according to Rimer.

“We’re retaining our women a lot more at senior associate level and we have a higher return-to-work rate from parental leave because we are willing to provide flexible work and emergency childcare,” she said.

The next step, according to Rimer, is to offer the same benefits – such as paid leave and flexible working hours – to fathers. One law firm which has already taken innovative steps in this field is Minter Ellison’s Perthoffice, which has refined its parental leave policy to ensure it delivers genuine work/life balance for new fathers.

Under the new policy – believed to be a first for a law firm in Western Australia– new fathers can work the equivalent of a four-day week on full pay over five days for the first three months of their parental leave.

The impetus for the change was a staff climate change survey conducted by Minter Ellison at the end of 2007.While the survey showed that staff engagement was at a record 74 per cent, the answers to the work/life balance prompted further investigation.

Asked to comment on balance between personal and work commitments, male staff members said they were 13 per cent less satisfied than female staff members.

In announcing the new policy, managing partner John Poulsen said that about 57 per cent of Western Australia’s workforce is male and that flexible working options are needed to help retain skilled staff and encourage greater productivity.