Making Work, Work

We can often make the mistake of talking about a portfolio career – utilising your experience and qualifications to work in more than one part time position or a series of contract positions– as something that happens as a result of circumstance or out of necessity, rather than realising it can be an extremely smart and strategic move. The number of people moving to a portfolio career is on the rise internationally, many of whom are opting to change the way they work to broaden their experience and challenge themselves further. Obelisk consultants have cited the extra opportunities that they have been able to seize as a result of adopting a portfolio career path. We take a closer look at some of these…

Expanding your horizons

Many Obelisk consultants have been able to work across multiple sectors that they would never have been exposed to in their previous career path. Likewise they were able to gain insights from a number of different clients, becoming exposed to their unique business needs. This has provided not just knowledge and insight to more industries, but also enhanced their softer skills set that are vital for lawyers.

A pace to suit you, now

Life changes mean, that for many in the legal sector, they will have to say goodbye to, or put the brakes on the career that they love. A portfolio career allows legal professionals to take on as much or as little work as they need and can handle at any given time. You can be in full control of your time and you no longer have to work to rigid expectations of others, but rather, find the balance between what works for you and the business concerned. A career break won’t hold you back in this regard; you can pick up work at a pace that suits and builds on your experience. Plus you can take on more work as and when you want to – some Obelisk consultants work on a stand by basis with clients and are available full-time when the need arises.

Brand new skills

A portfolio career can offer the opportunities to broaden your skillset in ways that a traditional career path may not. As an independent worker you are not only gaining further experience in law, you are also developing your skills in time management, client relations and business matters. The transferable skills you will acquire can lead to new challenges; it may inspire the confidence to set up an entirely new business, work as a coach or mentor or even write a book about your experiences. Obelisk consultant Rebecca Hayes was able to start and continue a freelance design business alongside her legal work, allowing her the balance between a creative outlet and legal knowledge, while another, Simon Frater, was able to pursue his interest in jewellery making as a silversmith.

Be a pioneer

More and more companies are looking for flexible and responsive legal talent to suit their schedules and changing business requirements. It can be hard for these companies to find legal professionals who have the experience and right approach to this kind of work. Building a portfolio career and being open to flexible working, opens the door to more opportunities for yourself, and also means you can help to lead the way in changing attitudes within the legal industry towards flexible and remote work, thereby providing more opportunities for others to work in a way that suits their lives.

Women in Law

Why do we find it so difficult to own our ambition and drive in the same way as men?

The short answer to the idea that ambition is a dirty word for women should be no of course it isn’t, how ridiculous. However, it’s unfortunately not that simple, yet. The way we talk about female ambition compared to male ambition (and indeed, the very fact we identify them as separate things) suggests there are still some prejudices when it comes to women aiming for the top.

There are lingering negative external attitudes towards women who are ambitious; but also internal conflict about ambition. It is often presumed that women do not have the same ambitions as men – or rather, that men are presumed to be ambitious by default, while for women it is an exception. With that and looking at the fight that other women have had to put in to gain their position in male dominated industries, many feel there is still no room for overt ambition displayed by women. We talk amongst ourselves in secret or in innuendo about our drive and passion.

Attitudes amongst women themselves are starting to change. There are interesting divides between younger and older women in ambitions as laid out in a Time Inc. survey in 2015. 48% of women in their 20s said they were “very” or “extremely” ambitious, compared to only 26% of women over 60. Younger women are also less likely to say it’s okay to not be ambitious– almost 60% said it was “not so” acceptable or completely unacceptable to be unambitious, compared to 44% of women in their late 40s and 50s.

So there remains a complex relationship between women and ambition as a result of sexist undertones in our society and its institutions, but does the problem also lie in the way we view patterns of work? The idea that long hours, constant ‘switch on’, endless meetings and trips are apparently the hallmarks of a driven, ambitious individual. Why can’t someone who is looking to work in a different way, or want to find a way to continue to progress their career around other commitments not be deemed ambitious too? Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi caused controversy in 2016 over comments about women not having the vertical ambition of their male counterparts. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition; it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy… I don’t think [the lack of women in leadership roles] is a problem. I’m just not worried about it because they are very happy, they’re very successful, and doing great work.” Many felt he seemed to be saying that the lack of women at the top wasn’t a problem because they didn’t want to be there, rather than looking at the institutional barriers that prevent them being there.

It is assumed that having different priorities in life reduces one’s level of ambition, rather than considering the ambition that someone has to create a more suitable path to achieve the things they want, across ALL aspects of their life. Even men who are seeking to work in a different way are being branded as ‘not ambitious’ in comparison to those who are never at home.

At Obelisk we think that ambition in this century means working towards your goals and recognising that at different points in your life, your focus of ambition will change according to different priorities. It is time we felt comfortable with that. This approach allows for a ‘portfolio career’ path, which is non-linear and non-traditional and reflects not only the current economic reality that we see around us, but also the fact that organisations these days don’t expect ’employees for life’. As we evolve as a business we see the different ways that men and women of all ages are creating new ways of working that reflect their desire to work and balance their life. That is ambitious!

Anna Fels, writer of Do Women Lack Ambition? in Havard Business Review says we “have confused [ambition] with narcissism, with people who simply want to promote themselves at any cost. But really, what ambition is about is getting appropriate recognition for your skills.” And that should apply whether you work part time, full time, at home, in the office, or whatever way you choose.

So in order for ambition to not be a dirty word for women, we need to change how we define it, and not associate it with success at all costs or workaholic patterns. We need to start defining all of what we want in life – balance, manageable progression, new skills, and new experiences as part and parcel of our ambition. We need to re-examine our own bias and perceptions about ambition when applied to women, and we also need to challenge it when we hear those biases voiced by others. Say it loud and clear: I am an ambitious woman!

Family & WorkObelisk In Action

Obelisk community manager Lucinda Acland shares her #MyMillionHours story of carving a path to work through her ever-evolving family life

When I first heard the term ‘portfolio career’, I was delighted to have a rather dignified description applied to my somewhat idiosyncratic working life. My experience is certainly not unique and since I have joined Obelisk Support, I have come across hundreds of others who have also had to cut-and-paste themselves into a variety of different working styles.

On a personal level I can identify strongly with the #MyMillionHours campaign as the question of having the time to devote to family whilst working has been at the heart of my life. I have worked in the legal sector on and off for the last 25 years. In the 1990s, I spent several years practising in commercial litigation, both as a solicitor and as a professional support lawyer in the use of technology and litigation for an international law firm. As a solicitor, I returned from maternity leave to my full-time job, as I was the breadwinner. I was still a junior assistant and the ethos was to work long hours to meet billing targets, and attend client and firm events. It was then that the day-to-day reality of the tension between competing interests of our two careers and parenting responsibilities hit home. My husband and I alternated between going in early and staying late and working weekends, and we shared a nanny with another couple.

When our third child came along a few years later, I decided to leave work and return to full-time stay at home parenting. It gave me the freedom to focus on our own family life, which needed stability during some very difficult times. I continually looked for ways of returning to work, but in a way that would cover all the bases of the moving targets of family life. I certainly experienced the ‘loss’ of myself without a separate individual endeavour. I also felt that I had somehow failed professionally and lost economic independence. I knew many other women who had opted out of various careers to focus on their families and who had huge amounts of skills and experience that were going to waste.

I needed to get back into the job market but it felt too difficult to re-engage with my previous career. In 2007 I started work as a writer and presenter, and then Legal Editor for The College of Law (now University of Law) for their online CPD course. It was full time in the office but I was able to work 8am to 4pm, which worked well for school hours. This was a good way of using my legal knowledge, research and writing skills. I also enjoyed interviewing people and the filming process.

When my eldest child was doing her GCSEs, I decided to look for a more flexible home-based solution. This came from the launch of a new legal services provider Riverview Law in 2012, where I oversaw the social media campaigns and managed their online presence. This was quite a change as I had to learn the principles and application of social media from scratch.  Nevertheless, I knew about the legal marketplace and the structural changes it was undergoing and was able to promote the company in an individual way and harness the interest in the new law environment. I could do a lot of it remotely, I liked the buzz of being involved in a new start up and felt my efforts made a difference. The hours suited me very well as I could choose when and where I worked, but I knew I was on the look out to do more than just social media.

In 2015 I joined Obelisk Support in the new post of Community Manager. I work 30 hours a week, with flexibility to work from home. The business is growing and expanding fast. The role involves being the day-to-day point of contact for our pool of consultants, developing a learning and development programme of events and involvement in our tech-enabled operational platforms and tools. I am also involved in the First 100 Years charitable project set up by CEO Dana Denis-Smith, which is the creation of a digital museum to celebrate the journey of women in law.

It is important to me that I can work within a team where the atmosphere is collaborative and supportive. It is by far the most impressive organisation at which I have worked in terms of having an authentic ethos driving the commercial activities. Working at Obelisk aligns with my values of encouraging people to have confidence in themselves, and recognise the value of their experience. I believe it helps promote a growth mind set, so that we develop curiosity alongside wisdom, fostering new ideas and innovation when applied to the workplace.

I speak regularly with lawyers who are keen to use their professional knowledge and abilities but, because of family and childcare responsibilities need a flexible working pattern. One of the hurdles that we aim to help them overcome is self-esteem and confidence. Often lawyers have come from a high achieving background and they can feel cut adrift when they step outside the career path. It’s important to stress that this is not just a women’s issue – we have many men consultants who are working in a different way too. Previous constraining attitudes are giving way to support and recognition of modern life’s demands on family and careers.