Women in Law

Column of Strength: Working Mums

Working Mums: the case for going beyond the ‘business case’.

When Joy returned to her job as a lawyer in the City following the birth of her first child, Mia, her boss had a surprise for her. She’d been replaced by a new recruit to the company and was being ‘managed out’ of the job she loved. Joy was shocked, but she can’t have been that surprised because it’s happened to so many women I know. Whenever I hear stories like hers, my mind quickly looks for an example of a returning mum being embraced and encouraged to advance her career in her old work place. I struggle to find positive examples among my wider social circle or, if I do, it tends to be in single digits. In a UK where women’s careers have been pronounced over by the age of 45, where half of women believe that having a baby poses such a risk to their career that they would consider remaining childless, it’s hardly surprising when one of us finds ourselves out of favour after having a baby.

It is great that companies are now springing up left, right and centre to offer flexible work to these highly skilled mums and I often hear arguments being made of “the business case” for doing so. Shared Parental Leave, which has just started this week, will no doubt become the latest addition to companies’ arsenal of “business case” drivers in due course. But it really does not have to be this complicated and this legislated! It is high time that companies go beyond the “business case” and their bottom line and support women that find themselves pushed into a professional cul-de-sac. Those highly-educated new mums need to feel valued and understood for their contribution and their skill. It is employers that should make a business case to them of how they will create a genuinely supportive career path that allows mums to continue to work without the plight of the guilt of motherhood.

How do working mums feel about being seen as a business case? Personally, as a working mum, I am disappointed that after decades of women being present in the workplace, they continue to be penalized for doing something so natural as starting a family, and penalized again for returning to work. I look forward to the day when being a mother and having career ambitions are not seen as being incompatible. I, for one, see it as my duty to play my part in making the case for working mums beyond the “business case”. At Obelisk Support, we did not turn “working mums” into a business case. We made it our business and not one day goes by without us delighting in the success of the working mum lawyers that can set the hours they work whilst looking after their young families. Their success is our success as a business.

By dana denis-smith

Dana Denis-Smith is an entrepreneur, former Linklaters solicitor and international journalist who lives in London, UK. In 2010, she founded Obelisk Legal Support Solutions (Obelisk Support--, a London-based alternative legal services company built around flexible, highly-skilled professionals. Aware that the legal profession is far behind its times in terms of gender diversity, she initiated the First 100 Years project ( to celebrate the journey of women in the legal profession in the United Kingdom over the past 100 years and this project will celebrate the centenary of women in law in 2019.

In 2018, Obelisk's founder Dana Denis-Smith was voted Legal Personality of the Year at the LexisNexis Awards 2018 and Obelisk Support joined the top tier of two prestigious lists, the FT1000 Europe’s Fastest Growing Companies and Inc. 5000 List of Europe's Fastest-Growing Companies. In 2017, Dana also won the WEConnect International Best Mentor and Role Model Award and delivered a TEDx talk on how to be remembered (based on her observations of the legal profession). In 2016, she was voted one of Britain’s five most inspiring mothers for juggling up a new business creation with family life, as she chooses to work flexibly in order to spend quality time with her young daughter.