family and career? on policy, progress & the future of work
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
The field of law is still very traditional. There are only a few women becoming partners or managing partners. I think it will be a long way, but it’s worth it. What we need most are role models who dare to go a different way.
Annika Wolf | Attorney
The struggles parents face when balancing work and family responsibilities are nothing new; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the boundaries between work and home life. In addition, employees working from home are found to be working more hours than prior to the pandemic, while those not able to do so can encounter countless difficulties when children’s learning is moved online.
Recently, the Women in the Workplace 2020 report found that mothers are not only doing more at home than fathers during the pandemic, but are also twice as likely to worry about being negatively judged because of their caregiving responsibilities.
To gather some more insight on the matter, we sat down with Annika Wolf, partner and banking & finance law specialist at our partner company PHH Attorneys at Law. The female factor had the pleasure of talking with Annika about her own experiences having a fulfilling career and building a family, as well as how companies can implement family-friendly work policies to build a more inclusive workplace.
44% of women report that their toughest challenge in the workplace is maintaining a work-life balance, while a mere 29% of women feel they could have children without it affecting their career.
Women continue to be expected to choose between having a fulfilling career and building a family. However, Annika highlighted that life is about balancing different elements. Whether it be work, friendships, family, health, sports, or sleep, all of these components are essential for our everyday lives, and we must find a way to make room for all of them. As Annika puts it: “I love my work and I love my family and I love all other parts of my life [...]. Isn't this what life is all about?”
In regards to the existing pressure on parents, especially women, to take a step back professionally for their children, Annika told us that “many people ask me how I will deal with the new situation as a mom and a business woman, but only few have ever asked my partner about that”. In order to achieve an equal society, it is essential to discuss the father’s role as well as the mother’s role. The more that men put an emphasis on balancing family and work, the more possible it will become for both women and men to have the two.
Contrary to popular belief, parenthood is, in fact, not a disadvantage to one’s career. As Annika highlights, being a parent can actually help your professional development: “Without my family I would not be happy. I don't think I could be a good lawyer and colleague if I were unhappy.”
It is clear that many fields and industries, including legal professions, remain very traditional, with few women being partners or even managing partners. Unfortunately, maternity continues to affect women’s careers, and the road to equality could be long. This sluggish pace of development is exactly why we need role models in all industries who dare to go a different way.
Annika hopes that “more and more women and men follow their chosen career path and enjoy their families without missing any of these two important parts of their lives.”
How can companies create a supportive and flexible work environment that facilitates parenthood and fosters equality?
1. Provide a flexible remote working environment
Organisations should take full advantage of digitalisation and allow for a flexible remote working environment where possible, making flexibility and agility their working ethos. As Annika points out: “Flexibility is key! Who says that everybody has to be at the office from 9am to 5pm?”
2. Foster collaboration and teamwork
Fostering collaboration and the distribution of tasks among team members can prove to be greatly effective, especially during the duration of parental leave. These two elements – digitalisation and teamwork – are surely an important factor for women and men to start or expand a family.
3. Learn to benefit from the employee’s experiences outside of work
Employers must consider that employees’ ambitions and situations change throughout their working life, as well as learning to benefit from the experiences that employees have in their leisure and family time.
4. Support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
Diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams - that is clear. But how can organisations ensure an inclusive and welcoming environment? Organisations ought to begin by removing the bias from recruiting processes to ensure neutral recruiting and diverse talent pools. Additionally, investing in the future of their diverse talents, boosting satisfaction and retaining them in their team is an essential step.
Organisations that are able to have a flexible remote working environment, foster collaboration, and create family-friendly policies will allow parents to return to work with ease, knowing their family-career balance can be maintained and that they are able to do the best for their clients and for their family. Although there is still room for improvement, Covid-19 and periods of lockdown have certainly brought awareness to the struggles that come with balancing work and family. Reinventing working conditions in order to balance the two is a welcomed change that is bound to last beyond the pandemic.
PHH Attorneys at Law was founded in 2001 and currently employs over 70 people, half of whom are lawyers specialising in different fields. As a leading commercial law firm, PHH have won multiple awards and are regarded as one of the leading Austrian practices for business law and cases involving white collar crime.
Annika Wolf focuses on project finance, trade finance, PPP projects, finance restructuring and banking supervisory law. Her main area of expertise lies in banking and finance law. Annika has been a partner at PHH Attorneys at Law for four years and previously worked as a lawyer at leading commercial law firms in Liechtenstein and Vienna.