Lawyers inspire inclusion on International Women’s Day

INSPIRE: Ellis Jones Solicitors celebrate International Women’s Day with special guest Catherine Beal, from Soroptimist International (SI) Bournemouth. She is pictured centre in the grey and dark blue striped top.

Pioneering lawyers urged businesses to put employment law into practice when they celebrated International Women’s Day.

They hailed progress made so far in tackling inequality but warned that there is still much to do to ensure female workers have the same opportunities as men.

The call came as Ellis Jones Solicitors held a dedicated ‘Lunch and Learn’ session for staff to mark the annual day.

The firm – with 178 staff and 21 partners in six offices – comprises a record 75% women. Seventy per cent of its senior associates are female while 57% of its management team and 89% of its support staff are women.

Kate Brooks, head of employment and HR services, said: “We have come a long way from the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Equal Pay Act of 1970.

“However, women have yet to achieve equality of opportunity, equal representation in senior roles and comparable earning power in those businesses where the glass ceiling exists.

“Traditional views about presentism in the workplace, career breaks for maternity and childcare responsibilities are still barriers in some workplaces, which leaves women under-under-rated and undervalued.

“It must be remembered that at minimum standards of equality are a legal obligation in the workplace.

“Thankfully progress has been made at many firms but more needs to be done through such initiatives as flexible working, enhanced maternity leave and structured career pathways to make equality a reality rather than a tick box exercise.”

Over and above minimum legal obligations, businesses are advised to, build equity, diversity and inclusion into their business’ strategic aims and company culture.

They can include equality, diversity and inclusion in employee policies, working practices and dealings with third parties; hold staff training every 12 months; have robust policies in place; create diversity in leadership; form a staff equality, diversity and inclusion group; and works towards external accreditations.

This year’s International Women’s Day had the theme of ‘inspire inclusion’ to encourage society to recognise the value of women and their diversity in race, age, ability, faith, body image and identity.

Ellis Jones’ celebration included guest speaker Catherine Beal, from Soroptimist International (SI) Bournemouth, who is co-lead of the charity’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) Challenge, just one of the projects that local Soroptimists undertake.

Ellis Jones sponsors the STEAM competition every year which promotes young girls in school around years 8 and 9 (aged 12-14 years) to work on a project which follows soroptimist aims to enable, educate and empower women and girls by taking a sustainable idea from design to prototype by using STEAM subjects. They aim to break gender stereotypes and encourage more girls to take up these subjects and careers in the future.

Catherine spoke about the work of SI as well as the STEAM contest, which has its final on March 21 at Bournemouth University this year.

She said: “It was inspirational hearing about the successes of so many women at Ellis Jones.

“Soroptimist International is proud to work with such a champion of inclusivity as Ellis Jones whose commitment to equality shows just how much can be achieved both for a business and its people too.”

Kate Brooks, and partner Katie Taft outlined their career paths and challenges during the Lunch and Learn session.

Katie, who is a Legal 500 rated lawyer, recently returned from maternity leave and talked about her experiences of Ellis Jones’ flexibility.

Kate has also successfully combined career and family. She was promoted to senior associate in 2016 during her maternity leave before becoming a partner in 2018.

Other inspirational figures are Legal 500 rated Victoria Riddleston, who is the firm’s youngest partner, head of dispute resolution Lauren Day, joint head of family Deborah Leask and head of wills, trusts and probate Carla Brown.

Deborah has built a stellar career in the profession after qualifying in 1990. She has been rated consistently in independent industry guides, including the Legal 500 in 2024 and Chambers and Partners in 2023.

Lauren has been recognised in the Legal 500, Chambers and Partners and The Times Top 200 Law Firms guides – including ratings as a ‘Leading Individual’. Lauren has also pioneered the firm’s LGBT+ legal services.

Carla, who became a partner in 2018, was named as a Recommended Lawyer in the latest Legal 500 and has been ranked several times in Chambers and Partners High Net Worth guide.

Other subjects at the Lunch and Learn included how the traditionally male dominated legal profession has changed, inclusion and how Ellis Jones supports its female employees.

This includes enhanced maternity and paternity leave, and a flexible working policy generally in terms of hours and location.

Ellis Jones firm supports various events for women, such as a Royal Ascot Ladies Day Lunch which it hosts every summer.

It also continues to raise awareness and breaks down barriers in such areas as the menopause, IVF and baby loss.

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) was held in March 1911. It is a global celebration of the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women.

ENDS