When Darshna Choudhury returned from maternity leave in October last year, she could have been forgiven for worrying that her opportunities for progression at work might diminish. For too long that has been the unacceptable norm for working mums.
Instead, Choudhury found in HW Fisher a modern, supportive firm that offered her the promotion to partner shortly after her return from maternity leave.
“I took a year out because I had a baby. I came back from maternity leave in October of last year so, it hasn’t been that long,” said Choudhury. “It’s been a really happy thing to come back to, to be able to get the promotion. And I think that says a lot as well, because a lot of people probably thought that with me going away it potentially would hinder my progression. I’m glad to see that it has not.”
Not only has Choudhury been promoted to partner, but she has been given the flexibility she needs to be a great employee and a great parent.
“I am currently part time doing four days a week. When I officially came back, I did three days for a while, and then went to four. And this is all very much down to them asking me what I wanted to do. There was no question over getting what I had asked for in terms of going part time and changing my hours. I come in early, and I go at 4:15. And that is non-negotiable because I don’t see my daughter in the morning,” she said.
“In that regard, they’ve been nothing but supportive as a whole. Everyone I work with, everyone’s very understanding.”
Indeed, as Choudhury points out, the idea that anyone will be wholly undisrupted by family life could soon become the exception rather than the norm. Men are increasingly demanding the same level of flexibility. And she says this is just one example of the “culture shift” taking place at HW Fisher.
“You can see in the future things like shared parental leave becoming the more prominent thing. It won’t necessarily just be women that will be asking to be part time. It’s going to be everyone that’s going to be given the same benefits, especially if we [don’t] want to think of women [having] to make all the sacrifices,” Choudhury added.
A role model for women and ethnic minorities
One of Choudhury’s biggest ambitions as partner is to bring through the next wave of female and ethnic minority talent, being a mentor and role model for minority ethnic women starting their careers at HW Fisher as Choudhury herself did in 2007.
Perhaps in years gone by, as firms hired fewer women and BAME candidates at entry level, the inability to hire them for senior roles was at least understandable. Now however, Choudhury insists there is no excuse.
“I’m quite keen to help with bringing other women up and other ethnic minorities up with me. I think that previously industry has been very male dominated. But, I really don’t think that’s the case anymore. If you look at our trainees, it’s very even in terms of how many women and men we employ, and in terms of who’s applying to go into the industry.”
“I don’t think it is at all a male dominated industry anymore, but obviously, it’s going to take time for that to filter through to the top level.”
“When I was training, there weren’t too many female managers. Obviously, everyone I work with has been very nurturing and helped me enormously because I progressed, but I think that it would have been nice to have had that.”
How though, will she go about challenging the status quo?
“I think that my initial step is to start developing the skills to be a good leader. Then I think that my intentions are to recognise where there is talent and hopefully act as a mentor to help bring other people.
“I’d like for people to be able to look up to me, and hopefully I can encourage them to progress.”