Friday, 12 March 2021

Arpita Dutt Talks to Adele Baxby Meehan

This week, our Content and Creative Director, Adele Baxby Meehan takes over The Conversation

Childcare is as essential to this country’s infrastructure as roads and bridges. It’s time government recognised this. This latest budget was a missed opportunity.” This came from Arpita Dutt, a leading equality and whistleblowing lawyer,  ELA Legislative & Policy Committee member and Lawyer Hot 100 alumnus, in our recent conversation. We were talking equality in the workplace and what might really change things for women. Arpita then quoted a stat which floored me – an investment in good quality childcare would produce 2.7 times more jobs as an equivalent investment in construction. Real action is needed to ensure women reach senior positions, especially in light of the pandemic and the step backwards equality has taken. And it’s not about paying lip service to the problem but taking real action. We don’t all need mentoring. Women generally know what they’re doing. They just need the space to do it”, Arpita said and I couldn’t agree more.

In relation to this, Arpita pointed to a positive trend she’s noticing in law – the rise of the boutique firm led by women. We’re seeing more and more niche boutique employment firms established by women. Karen Jackson’s didlaw, Farore Law established by Suzanne McKie QC, CM Murray founded by Clare Murray and Workwise Legal from Alison Humphry and MadeleineHughes, for example. No one is treading on anyone’s toes in this market as they all operate in their own niche practice areas. I think we will see more firms like this emerge and that should be celebrated.” Arpita expects to see more female legal entrepreneurship too and when asked why, she said: “The traditional law firm reward and recognition structure doesn’t suit women and women often aren’t encouraged to express their own vision or voice in some firms.” Speaking of the pandemic’s impact on workplace cultures, Arpita thinks that although working flexibly and working from home might be more accepted when we get back to ‘normal’, part-time work is still resisted by many firms, especially litigation teams. Forging their own way is a path increasingly explored by female lawyers who find the traditional law firm unsupportive and stuck in the past.

It was enlightening to speak to Arpita – her observations of the legal market are made through a particularly clear lens. She has recently deliberately taken some time out to reflect and this act of slowing down, she says, has allowed her to see where the legal market is heading. After helping to establish the employment firm BDBF, Arpita has decided to chart a new career. For now, she has a renewed focus on charity work and has also taken a step towards front line work again, volunteering for the Rights of Women workplace sexual harassment helpline and sitting on the advisory committee. This, she told me, has been eye-opening as many of the women calling the helpline have strong cases of discrimination or even sexual harassment and physical abuse but still feel too vulnerable to take legal action because they don’t want to experience retaliation and be out of work. Another example of the long-lasting impact COVID-19 could have for women.

In light of International Women’s Day this week and the worrying statistics around how the pandemic has impacted equality, Arpita, who speaks so passionately about the issue, left me feeling hopeful. There is still a way to go but I am confident with individuals like Arpita at the forefront, the conversations will continue to go in the right direction.

Please consider supporting the Rights of Women cause here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/rights-of-women/

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This week we enjoyed seeing the number of businesses celebrating women in recognition of International Women’s Day. One of our clients, Brook Graham, gave a lovely shout-out to some of the women who have helped shape their business (including our own Clare Rodway).
Since working with Brook Graham, after they became part of Pinsent Masons Vario last year, we have learnt so much from this team of expert diversity and inclusion consultants. From conversations with the team, I know much more about intersectionality for example and how gender and race e.g. can combine to create a particular type of discrimination, and how much businesses need to wake up to this. And Brook Graham’s ethos of taking a meaningful approach to culture change is so important – in this day and age it’s not enough to talk about D&I issues. What’s needed is meaningful change. So, consider this a shout-out back at you, Brook Graham – keep up the great work!

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Favourite news story of the week easily went to the announcement that Terry Boot is replacing Peter Foot as the Finance Director of ShoeZone. This highlights the brilliant phenomenon of nominative determinism – the idea that you lean towards a job that fits your name. Indeed, when I was a teenager, I worked for a bookbinder and bookshop owner who went by Scrivener. In law, Corporate Counsel wrote about nominative determinism in 2009 and highlighted that in 2002, 0.002% of the population had the surname Counsell or Councell but three people of this surname were listed as barristers - over 1,000% more than might be expected based on statistical probability. And of course, there was Lord Judge, LordChief Justice, who served from 2008 – 2013. It’s clear – there’s more to your name than you might think.

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Amelia Jones, Senior Account Manager at Kysen PR writes about IWD and the real issues businesses need to think about

A Mumsnet survey for IWD highlighted 1 in 5 working mothers during the pandemic have had to slash their hours in order to cope with the increased childcare, and most frustratingly of all “more than a third said their careers had been affected in a way that was not true for their partner”. 

Do businesses need to be alive to these issues? I think so.


Women taking on more caregiving responsibilities than their partner, despite working full-time, sadly isn’t a shocking statistic, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem due to school closures. We can’t change individual family dynamics, but what businesses can do is create more support and opportunity for women, taking into account what their personal circumstances might be.  

Despite the lack of good quality investment in childcare by the government, companies can do more to support families with their childcaring responsibilities. The ROI highlighted by Arpita could do much to help women flourish in their careers – giving them the space, time and opportunity to do so. The alternative is that we continue to lose talented and skilled women in our workplaces. 

Steps should be taken to improve equality for women at work, taking into account the responsibilities and pressure in today's society. Although it’s frustrating - we can’t change cultural expectations and socially constructed roles overnight - companies could take more of a tough approach in challenging why women’s careers are negatively impacted by the pandemic. As in the end, our industries will lose out the most.  

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