Obelisk In Action

IN CONVERSATION launches in London

This month saw the launch of the First 100 Years’ In Conversation series, which brings together two leading lawyers from across the profession to talk about the key issues surrounding women in law. Our first event posed the question ‘How Can Innovation and Diversity Shape the Legal Profession’.

We were treated to a thought provoking, inspiring and informative conversation with Rosemary Martin, General Counsel at Vodafone, and former Simmons & Simmons senior partner Dame Janet Gaymer. The event was chaired by Catherine Baksi, former barrister and journalist.

A timely discussion

Discussion and debate about the culture of the legal profession feels timely, with the buzzwords equality, diversity and innovation seeming to jut forth from almost every headline in recent months. A recently published Bar Council survey goes some way to demonstrating the astonishing level of sex discrimination which still exists within the sector – for example, although now 48% of solicitors are women, only 24% of women are partners. Women still do not get paid on the same terms as their male counterparts.

Catherine posed the question to Janet and Rosemary whether they think the progress of gender equality in Law is particularly bad, or if it is on a par with other sectors. The question is an interesting one, expanding the debate into wider circles, helping us to garner a better understanding of what wider societal-level cultural changes are needed to shift the attitude towards working women, and more broadly, women in general. Both Janet and Rosemary agreed that many other professions struggle with the issue of gender equality, with Janet commenting that we need only look at other professions like medicine to see sex discrimination just as widespread as that in the legal sector. The only difference, as she pointed out, is that “we’re lawyers, so it is not surprising that we will comment on it”.

As well as discussing present-day gender inequality, Janet and Rosemary shared their stories of moving up the ranks, in a time when sexism was more rampant and readily accepted as part of the culture of the legal profession. Janet’s experience of applying for articles at a certain firm and receiving a rejection letter stating that her application had been declined “because they were prejudiced against female clerks”, and Rosemary’s encounters of innate sexism by being assumed to be the secretary, or consistently expected to make teas and coffees for her colleagues, are a testament to the challenges women have faced in the past. But they are a testament to just how far the legal profession –and indeed all professions – have come.

Gender equality has certainly been a buzz topic for 2015, but it was interesting to listen to how it is not just negative discrimination that our two keynote speakers have faced. When Catherine asks Janet whether she can think of any times in her career where she has had to go the extra mile compared to male colleagues in order to achieve success, she notes that actually, being female was helpful – “people knew me as the female employment lawyer”, which helped to distinguish her from her male competition. Arguably, this just highlights that regardless of personal experience, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between, gender is never far away from our perceptions, experiences, and understandings of others.

Genders stick with their gender

Likewise, our understanding of gender and the cultural divide between the two sexes can make any attempts at reconciliation problematic. As Rosemary discusses her perceptions on how genders tend to stick with their own, we begin to see how ideas of gender are also interlinked with power, and hierarchy within a professional context. For an older, more professionally senior man to take a young woman out for lunch, Rosemary explains, “we assume bad intentions”. Not only can these kind of gender stereotypes be dangerous and damming for the individuals involved, moreover they make any meaningful cultural changes increasingly difficult.

What can be done to shape the legal profession? The first thing is to keep the women in it

Are the successes of females hindered by the attitudes, language and culture of an organisation even before the application process has begun? The awareness from both Janet and Rosemary about how the process has potential to favour men demonstrates that in order to raise the profile of women in the profession, there needs to be a sustained and fundamental examination of the way professionals are employed. Alongside this lies the issue of family, which appears to crop up in any way of discussion of working women, as women are often the sole caregiver to children. There is an assumption that once a woman starts to raise a family, she will give up her career and become the stay at home mother. So Catherine asks our speakers – do women wave goodbye to partnership if they have children? Or can women really have it at all?

Some of the pearls of wisdom from our speakers were that you can have it all, but your approach needs to be multi-faceted; you have to be physically fit, organised, have a strong and stable support network, and be prepared to fail. These things can all help to make it easier to grit your teeth and keep going when things become difficult.

Most importantly, you must enjoy what you’re doing – if you’re not, is all the juggling worthwhile?

Much of the emphasis when discussing women in law tends to focus on the character strengths of the individual women – be more confident, take the initiative, ‘copy’ male peers’ behaviours and mannerisms in order to get ahead. Of course, this is all very important, but the culture of a profession cannot change without the law changing, too. When Rosemary and Janet are asked whether employment law has helped, they both agree that it has. Although the law has changed attitudes towards women in a positive way, Janet also highlights how women can become to be perceived as a problem, because they’re protected by the law. So, in reality, the attitudes towards women haven’t altered, but in fact women were finally safe-guarded by the law to ensure their presence – albeit small – in the workplace.

There needs to be a two-pronged attack: if you want to change things, you have to change the law. But this needs to be exercised in tandem with an evaluation of the culture which regards women who hold senior positions – indeed, any career position – as in some way surprising, or as possessing traits that are different to the rest of her sex. Rosemary stresses that if you want to change things, you have to change the law.

“Because it is change, it is painful. So let’s make it painful for our generation, not the next”.

In Conversation: How Can Innovation and Diversity Shape the Legal Profession? was hosted by JLL:

At JLL, our women’s network plays an integral part in our diversity campaign and as such, we were truly delighted to partner with First 100 Years, a programme that aims to support, empower and celebrate women, and host the first session in their ‘in conversation’ series. We are committed to ensuring that our company is as diverse and vibrant as the communities we serve. Diversity drives innovation, creativity and promotes a culture that attracts the best talent and the best clients.

Obelisk In Action

Wednesday Live Spellbound by Rubens Filho

For this special Wednesday Live event, The Attic and guests were joined by Rubens Filho. An ex-lawyer, company owner and Director of Spells at Abracademy, he wowed us with not only some truly spectacular magic, but some unlikely similarities between magic and the world of business.

His personal story sheds light on how it is never too late to change path, and the importance of getting creative. Armed with some simple equipment, including a 3D printed wand and deck of cards, Rubens set out last night to inject some amazing magic into The Attic and into our lives.

Rubens comes from a family of successful lawyers in Brazil. After a career change which took him from working as a lawyer at a large Manhattan law firm to the creative world of advertising, it was his lifelong passion for magic, learned on the outskirts of São Paulo as a teenager studying law, that led Rubens to launch Abracademy, a venture that grew out of his consultancy business MeetRobots in 2015.

Abracademy is a London-based magic school “with the greatest purpose in the world: to make you a magician”. The school empowers and inspires children to “become extraordinary” through the medium of magic. Something, indeed, we can all learn from. 

Magic should be inclusive, not exclusive

One of Rubens’ goals for practicing magic is to make this sense of creativity applicable to all facets of life, for everyone, including the changing dynamics within the world of business and innovation. Things that would appear inconceivable even thirty years ago are now becoming real and evolving at a phenomenal pace. There is magic everywhere – from biotechnology, to 3D printing, to Google. This is what Rubens calls “big magic”.

Applying magic to business begins with a process, which, as Rubens explains, starts with becoming more conscious of ourselves, and more mindful. As we master this process “our consciousness can meet reality”. And by meeting reality, we can embrace choice.

Obelisk’s Jeremy Hopkins makes another intelligent choice 

Choice helps us connect with passion

Professor Melissa Cardon said: “Passion is a positive feeling that you experience for something that is profoundly meaningful to you as an individual.”

“What is your passion?”, Rubens ask us. It is something that needs to be nurtured and kept close to us. It is what makes a difference at work and in our daily lives. When this passion – this chosen reality that we are passionate about – is touched by magic, it will always reappear.

With a thrilling card trick, which Rubens performs flawlessly, we are reminded that the cards that represent our passions always resurface amongst the deck. So, with passion comes belief and conviction.

Show me the money. Rubens entralls the Wedsnesday Live audience

Rubens’ next trick highlighted the importance of conviction and belief in our passion and commitments 

“Do you think I can move this coin in my left hand, across my body and into my right hand?”

With baited breath, and a conviction he would reveal his secret, Rubens miraculously did just that, which was met with delighted applause and mutters of astonishment around the Attic.

The lesson learnt? When we are passionate about something, we are able to move from individual thinking to collective conviction. This collective purpose is the magic behind progress and success; the magic behind our convictions and our experiences. This magic in turn is what drives change, innovation and success in business. 

It was clear from the atmosphere in the Attic on Wednesday evening that the power of passion is contagious – giving people both belief and conviction, which makes people come together for a collective purpose. 

The magic secret is to find a purpose

The move from individual thinking to a collective drive brings meaning and determination to a business. Magic is the same – it breeds creativity, that ‘sparks’ change in people’s businesses, opening up people’s minds and spurring positive change. What Rubens finds really fascinating, he tells us, is spending time with people and letting them think freely: “When they don’t obey the rules – that’s what’s really inspiring”.

Rubens’ long history of lawyers in his family has given him first-hand experience of how creativity and magic can be incorporated into the world of law, or business, or whatever one is passionate about. At The Attic we spoke of how creativity can be integrated in whatever sphere of life – creativity in how you tackle problems, and how the story is brought together. This creativity can shed new light and new perspectives on a situation, bringing about successful and innovative transformations.

The thread of life

Rubens last trick of the night was to hold out a long piece of string – an analogy for the journey in our lifetimes. From birth, he explains, we imagine the perfect life – one long whirl of success, happiness, positivity and celebration. Soon enough, though, we are faced with obstacles and challenges. We may be bullied, or face rejection, frustrations and loneliness. These experiences snap the string of life, making us realise that we can be vulnerable. “There it goes”, Ruben says, as our neat piece of string becomes a tangled ball. So how do we put the thread back together?

Rubens begins to perform something seemingly impossible. With the room enthralled, he explains: 

“As we look at all these things, and try to make sense of this big mess we call life, we ask questions. We try different approaches. We dream about something different; something new. Life is not what people throw at us; life is what we make out of it.”

Miraculously, before our very eyes, Rubens has fixed the thread of life. He reveals a perfectly formed piece of string in his hands, followed by loud applause and laughter, reminding us all that there is magic in the world.