“Dear LiL: The legal profession has seen many significant adaptations in the pandemic – which among these are likely to help women in the profession in the long term? Do you think COVID-19 has the potential to spur gender diversity in law?” Signed ~ Glass Half Full
Dear Glass Half Full:
Sadly, I do not think that COVID-19 has spurred better gender diversity in law. In fact, when I first read the question, I thought it has likely done the opposite. Rather than rely on my own hunch, I did some research and came across article upon article and the news, my friends, is not good. From the New York Times story “Pandemic Will Take Our Women 10 Years Back in the Workplace” to the recent CBC article “Pandemic Job Losses Threaten to Leave Women Behind Permanently”, studies on the impact of the pandemic, while not limited to the practice of law, indicate COVID-19 has harmed working women more than working men. It has been particularly devastating for minority women.
The pandemic had forced all lawyers to think about our jobs and how we do them. It has demonstrated that the successful practice of law in 2021 does not require wearing a business suit nor does it require being glued to a desk in downtown Vancouver from 8 am to 6 pm. The use of and reliance on technology, the implementation of remote working and the consequential flexibility can benefit both men and women in the practice. I have enjoyed saving two hours of commuting a day, wearing comfy clothes, and taking a break to go for a run at lunch and am not eager to return to all the old ways.
My concern though, is that many of the “negatives” we associate with the pandemic are impacting women more than men. In many dual-income heterosexual households, the female lawyer is still burdened with the “mental load” of running the household on top of a full-time practice. Over the past year, I have heard stories of colleagues trying to home-school their little ones, track down Clorox wipes online, answer client calls and prepare for the latest discovery- all simultaneously. While the idea of working “flexible hours” may seem appealing, have we been able to carve out a better work-life balance or are we now just working around the clock because the emails keep coming and our normal work time is constantly interrupted? Is there time left at the end of the day to mentor and be mentored by each other? What about business development?
COVID-19 has shown us that there are different ways to work, but the ingrained beliefs and prejudices than have impeded us are going to take more than this crisis to change. Having a forum like LiL to discuss these issues openly and honestly, is one step in the right direction.