Two people walking on a street Two people walking on a street

Shelagh McKibbin, international lawyer, London

Shelagh McKibbin

Challenge: close the gender pay gap faster and further

Shelagh McKibbin can attest that it is eminently possible for a woman with children to work at a senior level in a demanding sector. McKibbin is a partner in the real estate division of Herbert Smith international law firm, handling multi-million pound property transactions. She has been working flexibly for the last twelve years.

'I was a partner in the firm when I had my third child, very soon after having my second. It was the combination of having two close together that I found particularly difficult, and I decided to resign,' she says. The firm were keen to keep her and agreed to a working arrangement in which she would work full time during term time but have extra time off during school holidays. 'There was quite a bit of resistance at first - the proposal went to a vote at the partnership and only just squeaked through.'

The arrangement worked well, however, and over a decade later flexible working is much more common in the firm and in the sector more generally.

'The climate for working parents has changed considerably since those days. Clients do not necessarily expect you to be sitting at your desk, as it is now so much easier to work at a distance. Enlightened employers understand that.'

While it has become easier for people at senior levels to balance work and caring responsibilities, McKibbin points out that it can be more difficult in junior roles. 'Until it is just as acceptable for a secretary to work flexible hours, I still don't think we have quite got there,' she says. 'Also, we still do find that despite flexible working many women are not interested in going through to partnership, perhaps because they feel it would not be compatible with family life.'

McKibbin, however, has no regrets about pursuing her career while being a mother. 'I personally think I have the best of all worlds: an interesting, challenging job, and good quality time off with my kids in the holidays. I wouldn't change a thing.'

Last updated: 25 May 2016