Marilyn Stowe talks: women in the workplace

Family Law|June 14th 2016

This morning, an article in ‘The Brief’ newsletter from The Times caught my attention. Apparently, as many as 60 per cent of female lawyers believe their career has been hindered by a gender bias.

While some male lawyers have expressed support for the idea of gender quotas at law firms and the judiciary, women in the legal profession remained adamantly against it, according to the report.

Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption is apparently not convinced that discrimination is an issue in the profession. Last year, he spoke to the Evening Standard about the issue and said that the lack of women in high positions was because they often do not want the lifestyle required for such positions.

So what do I think?

I run arguably the biggest family law firm in the country. Around 70 per cent of the solicitors at the firm are women. With so many working at my firm, there are often pregnancies and maternity leave requests, and while some may see this as a challenge, I have always seen it as an opportunity.

Maternity gives me the opportunity to hire new people and expand the firm. Those who take the time off can come back at the end of their leave and re-establish themselves with clients and those hired to fill in will often stay with us. Everyone has the opportunity to carve their own niche. If the new mothers choose not to return, then more new faces can be brought in.

Discrimination does exist but it is possible for law firms to do their part. Every woman has the right to maternity leave without having to worry about what it will mean for their career prospects. As an employer it is a challenge but one that can be overcome and actually be a benefit to the firm and legal profession.



Video Transcript

“Sixty per cent of women blame gender bias for hampering their careers” is the provocative headline that thunders from The Brief today, which is part of The Times of London.

It got me thinking. It is quite an interesting subject because yesterday I actually mentioned Lord Sumption who is Supreme Court Judge and said that he is a big personality in the law. The link between the two is that he spoke to the Evening Standard in September 2015 and he was looking at the lack of women judges in high positions in the legal profession. From 2004, when Lady Hale was appointed to the Supreme Court, of the 13 judges that were appointed thereafter, they were all male. He said that actually the lack of women was because they couldn’t stand the lifestyle, it was very hard work and he thought they just couldn’t and wouldn’t put up with it. He was strongly against a quota of women to add diversity to the judicial profession.

The survey today suggests that a significant minority of lawyers would approve of a quota of women to the higher echelons of the legal profession; both the bar and solicitors professions. Women themselves, women lawyers didn’t want it.

So, what are my thoughts?

Well, I head arguable the largest family law firm in the country and 70 per cent of the lawyers in my firm are women. So I think I have got something to say about it. First of all, from a personal point of view, have I ever come across discrimination? Not that I am aware of but I do not think that it would have stopped me anyway. Secondly, in terms of who we take on, does it matter if it is a man or a woman? That is where, as an employer, I think that things do crop up that make you wonder. For example, most of the women in my firm have got families, or are pregnant, or are off on maternity leave. I can guarantee that at least three or four solicitors in the firm will phone me up every year and say “Marilyn, I have got some news for you…”.

It is how you treat that. It is whether you treat it as a challenge or as a hindrance that I think marks out the firm. What I have discovered is when somebody goes off on maternity, the best thing you can do is hire new people in. Hire them, not because they are a certain sex and they are unlikely to get pregnant but hire them because they are good. They will carve out a niche for themselves and when the solicitor who is on maternity comes back, she too, because she is good, she will rebuild her own caseload as well.

That is actually one of the secrets of the success of Stowe Family Law. Instead of taking on the point about gender discrimination and so on and so forth, we have taken on maternity and we have dealt with it and think that we have dealt with it in the correct way. People want to have families, people are entitled to have families and they are entitled to have time off. Fine. We have to think about clients, we have to think about the growth of the firm and we have taken maternity as a very real challenge. We have replaced people and we have grown. So that is my view.

I think discrimination does exist. I think that women are regarded as bringing baggage with them but my own experience suggests quite the opposite is the truth.

Thank you.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. D says:

    Every woman has the right to maternity leave and so does every father the right to paternity leave. If we could encourage both men and women take these then there wouldn’t be the temptation (that shouldn’t happen anyway) for discrimination due to the ‘risk’ of men or women being equally likely to take paternity/maternity leave. We could also have a balanced care provision by sharing the carer roles and career roles equally. So both parents could maintain their careers and take part in family life.
    We hopefully should move towards a place where the idea of gender quotas isn’t needed. Gender shouldn’t make any difference to the ability to do any job nor bringing up children. If we can’t we really should consider engineering society so we have less/no men; as their roles would be diminished/less relevant in the future. It solves a whole load of other problems around biology (a mine-field of Y chromosome problems awaits the human race), society, health, crime, sex, pay equality, social structure, family… That’s tweaking human biology so we only get XX chromosome expressed (not killing anyone) and not taking the route China of preference for boys.

    • Andrew says:

      What is this, the poor (wo)man’s Brave New World?

      • Luke says:

        It’s part of the #KillAllMen/SJW/3rd Wave feminism agenda – they’re heavily brainwashed (often by University gender studies courses) and generally bats**t insane.

        • JamesB says:

          I also have an issue with IVF gender selection and natural fathers not being involved, I don’t have an issue with gays bringing-up children, provided the natural biological father is involved, I do have an issue with paternity fraud and sperm donors being paid off to not be involved in bringing up their children.

          Yes, I also have an issue with bats*&t loonie feminists picking fights with me and then playing victims, too much feminist bulls*7t, like expectations of holding doors open for them for 15 seconds or more and giving up place in queue for them (annoyed with myself for doing this today for this woman who claimed I pushed in when I didnt, if it were a man I would have stood my ground, won’t fall for that one again) and waiting while they finish conversations in doorways, middle of pavements, supermarkets, bbc, etc.

          Do I think should give encourage women back to work with young children? Now there’s a question.

          I will do what a politician does and not answer it.

          It is crazy for a man who may be liable to divorce under the current law to let his wife be a stay at home mum as if he does so for a few years then she divorces him, he becomes her slave while she stays at home.

          Should it be like that? No.

          Should we encourage women to work? Yes, Im ok with that provided they don’t dress too sexily as that can be distracting, as long as they are conservatively dressed in the workplace without too tight or revealing clothes or hair or makeup.

          I will answer the earlier question. Should we encourage women to leave young children in nursery while they work? Yes, if is ok for employers.

          I think Kibbutzes. Job shares, training is ok. All is ok, provided it doesn’t make men and women live in different houses or employers find it too expensive or uneconomical which is where all the regulations and big government (especially the EU) are driving people to live alone or single parent families.

          Positive discrimination in favour of unhappy setups for children I do have an issue with.

          Not sure how well the Kibbutzes work for children, perhaps Marilyn as a visitor to and who knows more than me on Israel can answer that question.

        • D says:

          Why not? Bat s**t crazy ideas can bring some interesting points. Even I’m impressed with my 0 to rant,
          There’s plenty of mad ideas out there that are mainstream. Mutually assured destruction being one.
          Wake up and smell the coffee. We’re hardly a species that treats each other with respect let alone others or environment. Wars, genocide, harassment of minorities. It’s got worse now more people don’t buy the idea there’s a man in the sky watching you and that he can see all your thoughts and ideas.
          We’ve had millennia of civilisation, millennia of philosophic pondering, centuries of technology advances.
          There’s nothing either gender can or can’t do. Science, art, engineering, language of mathematics aren’t intrinsically gendered. The absence of men won’t be a problem; especially in a society where no-one had any memory of them. If we go by statistical guilt then we’d solve most of our crime problems. Wars of the past would be impossible. Taking statistics, violence would be virtually non-existent. Population would be easy .. no need to try having one of each. The tabloid news dream of a gender-battle inside every home would be crushed. Patriarchal society structures would be obsolete. The disappearance of male sexuality based predominantly on visual attraction would kill off objectification.
          One seemingly horrific change, in the absence of society managing to actually make the proper changes, might make the difference between the human race surviving or not surviving. The utopia; perhaps? Perhaps not? Who knows?
          It would seem that every problem for humanity would be solved, so simple,… wow !
          However, you’d want to be sure the technical side of replacing one bit of the birds and the bees with technology worked 100% effectively though 🙂 !
          A big lesson in life I’ve learned from both sides of the you’re not needed/wanted fence, is there’s no point hanging around when you’re not needed.
          While explicit support would never be there; implicit support sort of is..
          Men are held collectively responsible when high profile rapes, gender inequality, domestic abuse, crime, etc. occur. This is in a way that would be unacceptable to other ‘groups’. When a terrorist atrocity occurs Muslims are quite acceptably allowed to disassociate themselves from extremism and not (in theory) have to (individually) denounce it. The #yesallmen type movement applies a blanket guilt by label; even if most men find the idea of any kind of rape, violence, domestic abuse abhorrent.
          There is a general undercurrent in acceptable society being a general dislike of men, masculinity and things men are held to represent. The falling number of men in education is of no concern, it’s been quietly reported. There’s no interest in this let alone having any chance of being addressed. Begging the question do we really want equality or just to fight for our own labels?
          There’s plenty more of the modern world ahead of us, much more than there is modem history. Another global conflict is almost a certainty and will likely be on a scale we can’t even imagine. We’re not yet at a place where we’ve run out of resources or have unsolvable problems. But with increasing population, ultimately the depletion of resources and the related tensions; humanity really can’t afford to mess about much more.
          Obviously there are much better solutions, very easy solutions like treating each human as a human equal to another and with respect. But unless we start having sensible solutions we might end up visiting ones that are quite uncomfortable in the future. Now who wasn’t meant to get into the lifeboats?

        • D says:

          Going back somewhat more to topic. With sight of the decrease of men in higher education and hence men in professional level jobs (which will happen into the future). We do need to look at how maternity/paternity leave is handled. I can quite sympathise with the comment that “if somebody chooses to have a child and disappear for a year there are consequences to that choice, others have to bear that load”. In a skilled profession there are consequences to taking a break and everyone needs to address this, both employer and employee. Do we just pretend that a fast moving field hasn’t moved on during a career break? Should the employer or the employee or even the state pick up the re-training costs?
          Into the future society/women will still open themselves up to this discrimination. The social change of either having both partners share child care and income responsibilities equally plus concurrently or make it just as likely men could go off on long term paternity leave would eliminate the possibility of discrimination based on fear of a woman going on maternity leave because simply a man applying for the same job would be just as likely to take long term paternity leave. Of course, we then look at the level of employment of men in pre-school occupations.
          There’s also the financial consequences of giving up work long term. As ever one able adult deciding to become financially dependent on another adult, for whatever the reason, is never going to end well.

  2. Andy says:

    Any chance you could tell the judges that in court..At present its so imbalanced..funny that..Now if men stood up to men’s rights as also what if a father had a career break to look after the children..cuts both ways but this is not reflected in court or in divorce..surprise surprise..The out side world has changed so should the divorce courts to suite..Now we have the new one adultery as being the term used and between wife and husband..Now we have adultery between Same sex male male..of female female!!!
    Also with people shall we say (coming out)and supporting the choice as revealed by a certain rugby player..with story in press via his, well,ex partner or new partner.
    How does the divorce law cope with that..well, usual earn more and the lesser gets more..same rules but applied in new living terms…
    It’s cheaper for the courts,just think this ‘re written ruling could cost thousands if pushed through..

  3. spinner says:

    With 70% of your staff being female what actions are you actively and presumably urgently taking to try to address the gender imbalance in your firm and encourage men to apply for positions.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Hi Spinner
      We are currently recruiting permanent qualified lawyers:- solicitors or barristers for London Leeds St Albans and Wilmslow offices due to continued growth, some is due to upcoming maternity leave. We welcome good lawyers (of course any sex to apply) and they could start straight away. In reality the profession especially in family law, is becoming dominated by women and at some point the discrimination I mention will melt away. But not yet.

      • spinner says:

        You may struggle with the gender gap of women entering university now being near 55/45 in women’s favour and that figure is only going one way and has been for many years yet strangely there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to rectify or even really understand this problem.

  4. Andrew says:

    Do you do criminal law too? If you do you will be aware that magistrates’ courts sit on Saturdays and if you want the work your firm will have to join the duty solicitor scheme and take your share of the Saturday sittings.
    And at some point there will be one of your people who does not want to take her (almost certainly her) share of the firm’s share because of childcare issues and is convinced that the private lives of people without dependent children is somehow less important than hers.
    Don’t weaken. She will have to sort her own problems out. Besides being grossly unfair, any other rule is indirect sex and age discrimination and you will be hard put to justify it if you get sued.

  5. Luke says:

    “Every woman has the right to maternity leave without having to worry about what it will mean for their career prospects.”
    I don’t agree with that – and I don’t care if it’s an unpopular view.
    I believe in a meritocracy and choice, if somebody chooses to have a child and disappear for a year there are consequences to that choice, others have to bear that load.
    Women working full time in the UK under 39 (basically before children) earn slightly MORE – according to the BBC (hardly a biased capitalist institution !}, that doesn’t suggest sexism.
    It should be up to the employer how valuable that employee is and how they should be reintegrated, and if they decide that as a consequence of being off for a year a promotion or pay rise is missed or delayed that is not unfair.
    You Marilyn have been extremely successful with your strategy – and that’s great – but different industries have different challenges and I don’t think employers should be tied down with unnecessary regulation.

    • JamesB says:

      I would like to be tied down with unnecessary regulation please. But enough about my private life ;-).

    • JamesB says:

      re: “Every woman has the right to maternity leave without having to worry about what it will mean for their career prospects.

      I think that this is an issue also.

      Women (and therefore men) do struggle with women having a career and a family. I have seen it.

      Should employers help people with this struggle? No, probably not.

      So, what to do with women? Well, they can (and do) what they like and I have no issue with that. Just they seem rather anxious about the current state of affairs, and it seems to me like they need some direction from people other than so called feminists.

      If I was a woman I think I would be happy to have a family and bring them up well with a nice man and work part time and then when they are older perhaps do a bit more work, I would see raising children and maintaining a family as a crucial job. What to do before and after children? Well, I suppose if I were a woman I would want to travel the world with someone else’s money, failing that I suppose I would want to be looked after in nice house and car and foreign holidays and at least a part time job.

      All that said I think its probably waffle and best to say what Freud said about women,.

      He famously said it was beyond him to answer the question of what women want.

      I will say one thing worth reading in this post, if you have a church wedding and the vows the woman wants to say cherish rather than obey, probably not advisable to go through with the wedding as living with an entitled feminist isn’t much fun as either going to mean enslavement or divorce or one followed by the other.

  6. JamesB says:

    Yes, my ex wife, on advice from her feminist sister, went for the cherish line and I sort of felt wrong about it at that time and afterwards and probably should have cancelled the wedding because of it. If they can’t even compromise to go with the traditional wedding vows then you will be getting an earful until separation. On a more positive note, marriage can be more fun then that and worth doing.

  7. JamesB says:

    I think its the feeling of entitlement which kills marriages on one side, or the other or both. one of those entitlement issues is the have it all women who finds she cant and argues with her spouse about it.

    Is it possible for a women with young children to have a career and husband too? I would think its a bit like trying to make money out of gambling, possible, but very hard unlikely journey that some manage.

    • JamesB says:

      Some rich people might manage it who could afford the childcare, but don’t expect state funded childcare. Most wealthy men with these will probably walk like Saachi unfortunately did from Nigella.

      Should the state finance women going back to work with young children? I agree with Luke, that they should not. Bringing up children is a very important job, and undervalued by feminists.

  8. JamesB says:

    Happy marriages are possible, whether the woman has a career or not, also whether the man has a career or not.

    Final thing on this, this is because, unlike pandas, most importantly, shock horror, I believe that men and women do actually get on rather well :-).

    The question is what form will marriages take in future? Do humans marry for life? Sometimes, sometimes not, doesn’t mean we don’t get on.

    Think Professor Robert Winstone did a study on it, based on chimps, humans and gorillas. Gorillas mate for life and are monogamous, chimps don’t and are promiscuous and humans are in-between (based upon relative size of their testes).

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