Elaine MacGlone is our Equality & Diversity Manager and a solicitor. She reflects on what she's learned from our series of blogs celebrating International Women's Day 2021 and how even the smallest changes can make a difference.

This year, the theme of International Women's Day (IWD) is “Choose to Challenge”. For me, one of the main drivers for choosing to challenge is learning about the experiences of others and sharing your own experiences. With this in mind, what lessons I have learned from our fabulous IWD bloggers?

On Monday, Naeema Sajid reminded us that, while gender equality has taken massive strides since Madge Easton Anderson became the first female Scottish (and UK!) solicitor in 1920, there is still much progress to make.

I reflected upon the fact that when my Grandmothers were born in 1910, they were denied the right to vote, to choose the career in law I chose for myself, or the careers in STEM that my daughters wish to pursue, simply because they were female.

I was born before the Equal Pay Act became law and the very idea that women and men could and should be paid the same for the same work was actually controversial! My daughters were horrified to learn all this.

The sobering fact is that we are still on a long journey for gender equality.

Naeema noted that, based on the current trends it will take 99 years to eliminate the gender pay gap. Will my grandchildren look back to 2021 and be horrified that men and women were not treated equally in the workplace, because such a concept is completely alien to them? I certainly hope so.

On Tuesday, Charlotte Edgar got me thinking about cultural influences and on the impact of cultural norms on the workplace.

We live in a culture where there is an underlying assumption that women are the carers and men are the breadwinners. Various studies have identified that women are the ones bearing the main burden of childcare and schooling in the time of Covid-19.

However, even before the impact of the pandemic, the vast majority of people who took up flexible working options, parental leave and similar initiatives to support family life (which on the face of it are gender neutral) were female. That has consequences in slowing career progression and thus is a factor in the gender pay gap.

It’s clear that many men feel discouraged from taking up these options. Either overtly in a workplace where the assumption is that part-time work is available only for mothers or less overtly, such as being laughed at for being active care takers. How often have we heard "jokes" about Daddy Day-care and men "babysitting" their own children? Too often.

Claire Hawthorne’s blog has given me some hope.

It is wonderful to read the positive experiences she has as a recent entrant to the legal profession.

She highlighted the difference that the steps her firm has taken to address gender imbalance has made to her, and the impact of female role models. Never underestimate the encouragement that seeing someone like yourself in a space you want to be can provide. It’s something we are delighted to support through our One Profession, Many Journeys profiles.

On Thursday, Professor Gillian Black addressed her call to men, highlighting that gender inequality is an issue for everyone.

And it is.

As a profession, we want to encourage continuous improvement and innovation.

Solicitors are the people who we turn to when we want to challenge injustice, unfairness and inequality. We drive change in the law. As a profession, we don’t just sit back and accept that is the way it is and should always be, and that it cannot be changed.

I have often heard that the percentage of women partners and women in senior positions will improve naturally given time. It is cited that the percentages reflect the gender balance of entrants to the profession at the time those senior leaders went to University and we should just be patient.

My own experiences contradict this.

When looking at the LLB class of ’87 at my alma mater, it was pretty much 50/50 male/female. My classmates are now the partners and senior leaders of today (and have been for some time) and, still, we are nowhere near 50/50 male/female at these levels.

So, let’s channel our instincts to challenge and question this area.

What are my takeaways from IWD 2021?

Choosing to challenge means challenging our cultural assumptions from the very early years and to continue to do so through our lives.

But it’s not all about the big sweeping changes.

Choosing to challenge can take many forms and small steps can lead to bigger change. As Greta Thunberg has pointed out in relation to environmental changes: "No one is too small to make a difference".

Challenging those who make thoughtless undermining comments in the workplace is a small step for an individual, but, if many do so, it will lead to real culture change.

Challenge the decisions makers and seek explanations on why certain decisions have been made, and support others to do so. As a leader, be open to challenge and be prepared to change your practices as a result.

One small way to support and encourage others is sharing your journey and experiences, as our IWD bloggers and others, such as the International Men’s Day bloggers Gregory Stachura, Tim Mouncer and Tim Taylor, have done.

If you have experiences you’d like to share, please do get in contact with me.

I’m up for the challenge and hope that you will be too.