By dramatically increasing financial support for parental leave, Allen & Overy is telling its staff and lawyers that starting a family will not affect their future career progression. Patrick Mischo, Luxembourg Office Senior Partner, and Magali Maillot, HR Director, explained the strategic implications of this move for the law firm.
“We understand the importance of diversity throughout our firm, especially at partner level, and this has been a strategic focus for a number of years,” Patrick explained. “Yet despite numerous efforts, we had to admit that the desired results had yet to materialise,” he said.
Target of 20% female partners
At the start of this year, none of the 13 partners at Allen & Overy were female. The firm has since moved in the desired direction, with the partner group being expanded to 16 on 1st May, and with one of these now being a woman. Yet the firm in Luxembourg remains someway off its goal of having 20% of female partners by 2025 – a target set locally (30% at global level).
“We have a good record on diversity regarding lawyers at the start of their careers, but the change occurs when thoughts turn to starting a family,” said Magali. Not only is there a tendency for women to down-shift and prioritise childcare over their professional lives, but on the other side of the equation, couples often decide that the man should be the main breadwinner and focus on their career.
These decisions act as a disincentive for men to take parental leave. Luxembourg’s state-run scheme offers a maximum of nearly €4,000 per month per parent, which represents a substantial income cut for a senior lawyer. “There is also a widely held perception that taking time out to be with a family will be disadvantageous to career progression,” said Patrick. This all serves to reinforce conscious and unconscious biases about gender roles in the workforce, both generally speaking and within law firms.
“When the partners discussed this, we realised we had a strategic challenge, and that something bold was required to drive a change in mindsets,” he added. Work began a couple of years ago, and this resulted in a decision implanted in 2021 to boost considerably the financial support for parental leave.
Staff earning less than €6,000 per month receive 85% of their salary, with the state-funded payments topped up. For those earning more than this, 75% of the salary in guaranteed, up to a maximum of around €11,000 per month. This is available for four months, which can be split into separate periods, or used to cover eight months half time.
Walking the talk
“We have been working hard for many years to convince our people that we are happy for them to strike a healthy work/life balance, and that we encourage them to take a career break as they build their families,” said Magali. “This move on parental leave shows we are walking the talk; making a financial investment to underline that we are serious about creating a level playing field for men and women,” she said. “Both men and women can be confident that if they take parental leave, this will not prevent them from developing their careers, including being no barrier to them eventually becoming partners,” added Patrick.