Welcome to 'The Firm', the first in a series of blogs from the London office of Weil on a wide range of issues, from the practical implications of technical legal points to the key practice issues for business lawyers.
Weil is dedicated to hiring talented people, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age or disability, and to fostering an inclusive, vibrant work environment. We believe – and have found through experience – that individuals in such a network are best placed to generate positive working environments and creative solutions for our clients.
As a result of this, we have developed a number of employee networks to support and encourage all forms of diversity, one being Women@Weil: a global network of women employees focusing on mentoring, networking, pro-bono initiatives and business development, which provides a forum for members to network with each other. The London Women@Weil group currently run initiatives including quarterly breakfasts and social events focusing on issues affecting women. These events are well-attended by Weil staff and senior female legal staff from our clients.
As part of Weil’s family-friendly benefits programme, we offer employees a number of family-related initiatives, for example a specialist provider to assist with all aspects of child/dependant care, including emergency childcare, recruiting/hiring nannies, child-minders and nurseries. This service is provided to all employees and the cost is borne by the firm.
For maternity provisions, we are known to be the UK market leader in terms of enhanced maternity pay for lawyers and senior support staff.
An issue particularly close to my heart, we developed our Maternity Coaching initiative in summer 2009, from feedback received from women who were going on, or returning from, maternity leave, who highlighted that the concept of becoming a working mother, particularly for the first time, was very daunting. As Weil already offered employees coaches and counsellors for other purposes, we launched the Maternity Coaching concept, which is now in its fourth year. I was one of the first women to receive the coaching on the birth of my second child – and found the difference between returning to work from the first time to be marked as a result of the coaching. Having spoken with other women in the office who have had the coaching, everyone feels equally positive about the initiative – so much so that our maternity programme was one of the areas we scored highly on in Legal Week’s 2012 Employee Satisfaction Survey, and which contributed to our number one ranking as overall law firm of the year across 69 law firms in the UK and internationally.
In the Maternity Coaching initiative, we arrange individual confidential coaching sessions at the firm's expense. The employee meets separately with a number of coaches (typically around three) in order to choose the coach with whom they have the best rapport, and would like to work with. All coaches are qualified psychologists, counsellors, and/or coaches with relevant experience in HR and/or law, and the majority are mothers themselves – which I found meant they can really relate to you and your experiences. There are usually between three and five sessions; the first two are typically before you go on maternity leave, and help you plan a smooth transition into maternity leave: communicating with your team and clients, and setting aims and goals regarding what you wish to achieve from your leave and when returning to work. The sessions also aim to ensure you are relaxed and comfortable when you leave, enabling you to concentrate fully on home life and having a baby.
The session whilst on maternity leave can be essential in order to keep track of goals and aims. Maternity leave can be isolating, with little contact with the working world. This session helps you think about returning to work, whilst also ensuring you enjoy your time with your new baby. The session explores any concerns you may be experiencing – What’s happening to my role? Will I be able to concentrate if I leave my baby? What are the possible childcare options? Will I be able to show I am committed whilst working flexibly?
The final sessions help you readjust into the office environment. Returning can be a daunting experience, as perspectives of working life and your role can often change. Speaking to a number of associates, I have found that a loss of confidence can be one of the biggest challenges in the return to work, and the coaching can really help with this. These final sessions help focus on aims, achievements and transitioning back into the workplace. Weil recognises the diverse needs of its employees, in particular the need to sometimes change responsibilities of both work and personal lives, and operates a flexible working policy, which is open to mothers returning from maternity leave, as well as more widely across the firm. Some returning mothers choose to return to their existing role, while some prefer a different role/different working pattern. Their coach will help them transition into their role and make sure their new working pattern works well for them and their team.
The feedback we receive on our Maternity Coaching initiative demonstrates why it is so important – the changes and upheaval to employees’ working and personal lives women undergo when they have children cannot be underestimated and we feel we are taking the lead in this area, well above and beyond our competitors by investing significant time in preparing for it. As one Weil London associate summed up to me following her maternity leave:
“On maternity coaching, I was initially sceptical and didn't really appreciate what the potential benefits for me were. However, I really clicked with Mandy, my maternity coach, and found the sessions a really useful tool in helping me navigate a totally unfamiliar experience. For me, it wasn't so much that Mandy really "coached" me, but she provided an independent and objective sounding board which forced me to focus and structure my thoughts on what I wanted from maternity leave and the process of returning to work. Articulating those thoughts to Mandy, and thinking about my plans in more detail in response to her questions, was invaluable in me making the transition from work to mother and back again as smooth as possible.”