Categories
Women in Law

What I Learned in 8 Years of Championing Women Back to Work

“For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today.” Serena William’s on court interview after finishing runner up in the Wimbledon final on 14 July 2018 resonated with me. I have spent the past 8 years championing women back to work – when they believed they were ‘just a mum’, I believed they could be whatever they wanted to be.

Irrespective of their profession, I cannot think of a better role model for mothers to return to work than Serena – she acknowledged in the press conference that a couple of months before she didn’t know “how I was, how I would be, how I would do, how I would be able to come back; it was such a long way to see light at the end of the road.”  Do these questions sound familiar to new mums? Of course they do. But hearing the self-doubt that does not spare even a most accomplished athlete like Serena Williams is both familiar and refreshingly honest.

In a survey we carried out for Obelisk Support, all those we interviewed said they stopped work because when they became mothers they couldn’t juggle work and family and often they found employers not being open to flexibility.

Last week, Obelisk Support turned 8. I founded the business to change the way work was outsourced in the legal sector to be more inclusive and for sure, not to alienate a fantastic talent pool – mums. Our mission from the outset, was to empower lawyers to get back to work from home and thus to make sure that talent remained active in law.  About 80% of our 1,000+ consultants are women looking to balance personal responsibility and work, and many would not have thought working flexibly would be an opportunity available to them in their chosen profession. Since 2010, we have seen the stock of working mothers rise and rise and it is great that last week we had the most visible returner mum to date take to the global stage in Serena Williams, just 10 months after having her baby girl.

With a little help from Serena, here’s what I learnt in 8 years of championing lawyer mums back to work:

#1 Take the Opportunity

One of our first client jobs involved a mum of 3 coming all the way from Bristol to work for a couple of days in London. She needed to cut her teeth on a routine corporate due diligence transaction to able to measure her level as a lawyer; she had been out of work for 7 years and was keen to earn some of her money to spend on Christmas presents, as it was just around the corner. Taking the opportunity was the best decision she made – not only did she secure further assignments with Obelisk, while working from home, but with time she ‘graduated’ into a permanent role in a local firm.

#2 Take it One at a Time

Especially when returning on a freelance basis, taking it one job at a time is a great approach not just to understanding how clients work, but also how you want to work. There are new ways of working that allow you to test the water before committing to a full return. Sometimes the flexibility is offered after a settling in period, once the client gets comfortable with the lawyer skills set and communication style. Getting back to doing even an ad hoc piece of work can help pave the path for a higher volume of work.

#3 Stay In the Game

There is no doubt that having a longer career gap makes clients ask more questions, and a lawyer can find it harder and harder to explain away the gap. Some businesses carry out ‘gap analysis’ of CVs that go as far as needing to prove the number of children by providing their birth certificates! If this doesn’t persuade you to stay in the game, however little, I don’t know what will. However, that’s not to say that we haven’t had returners such as Jane that show a long gap doesn’t make your return impossible.

#4 Work On Your Game to Get Better

Some clients refer to returning mums as “rusty.” Newspaper headlines welcomed Serena back in similar fashion earlier this year when she first competed after having her girl. But it didn’t take long before the ‘rust’ was shaken off and she made another Grand Slam Final.

If you have the will to work, then you can improve the skills and keep getting better. Excellent advice for those that think the law changes so quickly you can’t keep up and therefore it’s better to stay out. You’d be amazed how quickly the knowledge returns with a little positive focus on improving all the time.

#5  Continue On Your Own Path

Many mums don’t have their sights set on a career ambition when they first return. Whilst board positions or leadership roles could come, the pressure of achieving too quickly can also be a reason to drop work altogether. So take your time, as long as you stay on the ‘path’.

#6 Don’t Make Any Excuses

Once you decide to return, and businesses make decisions that rely on your presence and contribution, it is only fair that you take work on a ‘no excuse’ basis. Being professional is critical to success and your attitude at work can create the best or worst impression for a client. Once you commit, be reliable and understand that you are dependable at work and at home.

#7 Your Priority is Your Baby

I know of no parent that doesn’t agree with Serena in this respect. By being open, she has yet again given permission to working mothers to talk about their kids. We are no longer living in a time when kids need to be hidden out of sight but similarly, she said that she is disciplined in separating work from her time with the child. She has set a clear timetable to make time to train in the morning after which she spends the bulk of her time with her daughter.

#8 Be More Ready

Before starting a role, it is important to prepare –read about the client and the type of law, ask questions and be ready. Understand what you wish to achieve and how you need to fit in to do the best you can during an assignment.

Ultimately, The Choice is Yours

You can be whatever you want to be if you want to go back to work – and there’s no pressure to do that as having a child is a completely full time job. But to those that do want to go back to work, “you can do it, you can really do it.”

Categories
Women in Law

Why do we choose to complicate the language of equality?

There were many witty signs at the global Women’s March on 21 January 2016 – many taking aim at recent political developments, in particular the US election of President Donald Trump – but one stood out for me through its sheer simplicity: “Yes to Equality!” It was refreshingly clear, and who could argue with it when the globe’s population is pretty much split down the middle along gender lines? Surely we all welcome equality and an open society in which we can all thrive – women and men together?

I find much of the language of equality sits at the very opposite end from the clarity of that #womensmarch placard. In the last decade in particular, it has become too nuanced and inefficient at amplifying the very essence of our call for change – in the case of gender equality, a desire to embed it in our workplace and reduce the sexism levels in our society. I have now followed the debate for much of the last 7 years and, through the prism of being a mother to a daughter, I think we need to unify and simplify the message around ‘equality’ if we are to see lasting change.

In the workplace in particular, the language of equality has been replaced with that of ‘diversity and inclusion’. Has this shift helped? Equality requires action to ensure individuals or groups of individuals are not treated differently or less favourably, on the basis of their specific protected characteristic – including areas of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age – and that avoids discrimination. Diversity and Inclusion, by contrast, introduced an element of choice around how a particular employer views individual differences so as to maximise their potential. This shift from action to choice is perhaps why, as a returning mum told me recently, we really need to shift the debate around gender equality and women in the workplace. There is a sense of being trapped in a straightjacket, which has managed to entangle us to the point of inaction.

We have witnessed the creation of a whole ‘diversity and inclusion’ professional class that has replaced much of the ‘equality’ speak that led to legislative changes in the past. We’ve now had equality legislation for decades, but still choose to pay women and men unequally. We choose to give women that have children a career ‘shelf life’ on the assumption that their ambition shouldn’t count once they choose to put their family first. We have an absence of women in leadership which we accept far too easily. Indeed, we still have a First Lady as opposed to a First Woman President in the US. Is this abundance of diversity initiatives working in effecting change or, to coin a phrase, is it #diversitywash? I think it is important that we ask why we are complicating the language of equality? We can no longer keep women riding on the inequality carrousel. Believing is doing, not words!

 

Categories
Family & Work Obelisk In Action Trending Women in Law

Join the Revolution: What will you do with 1 Million Hours?

When businesses are closed to flexible working options, talent goes to waste. What could reactivating that talent do for your time, and the economy?

A new week is filled with new possibilities to do and be better than the week that was. Talking about last week, the press was filled with reports about women in the workplace – 3 in fact. From explaining how women fall behind their male peers in climbing the corporate ladder, to how much more the economy could gain from women being economically active whilst child-rearing, or how much longer will it take to close the pay gap – 50 years to save you the read according to Deloitte! It’s clear that there is a problem with gender in the workplace, and there is certainly no shortage of ink being poured on this subject.

There is much diagnosis of the problem of women and work – so why are we still waiting for the results? Obelisk has been examining what locks people (and particularly women) out of the workplace for 5 years now. We have taken a keen interest in understanding the behaviours that make women with children become economically inactive. Through that understanding, we engage and educate talent-starved organisations that controlling operational costs does not always have to involve wage arbitrage somewhere abroad: That the future of work is indeed in the smart home.

If we work together, our strategies can align to deliver value and quality and also a decent wage for a home-working parent.

I founded the business on the simple premise that time is our most precious asset and we should not waste a minute of it; that our education over time equips us with the skills we need at different stages in our lives – of working more or less, depending on our family commitments and our ambition. To put it simply, I founded the business to remind our clients and consultants that “what really matters is what you do with what you have.” – H.G. Wells

Obelisk has 1 million hours of legal talent available to work. Will you help us to reactivate the talent or will you be part of a wasteful economy? Click on the hashtag to find out more #MyMillionHours

Categories
Media News

Silicon Valley is where ideas are ‘made’

“Great idea, shame about the execution” might sound like a platitude to most. In business, poor execution is without fail the death stroke that eventually leads to its demise. “Operational rigour”, as Sheryl Sandberg told us, is needed to support a business.

What struck me in last week’s immersion into Silicon Valley, part of the Mayor of London’s #femalefounders visit there with SVC2UK, was that no idea was “too big” to be turned into reality here. In fact, the place seems to make it its business to amplify ideas to the point that they envelop the world. Where else, as one of our hosts, venture capitalist and ex-lawyer David Hornik of August Capital, put it, can you find this density of businesses that have achieved global acceptance and domination – Apple, Linkedin, Google, Facebook, Uber – all within a few blocks’ of each other? They are all household names, a status they achieved in a short period of time (from Apple’s 40 years to Uber’s – frightfully – 5!).

What is the magic “Silicon Valley” ingredient that turns ideas into such fantastic companies? The answer seems to be simple – the concentration of expertise in Silicon Valley has no equal on the planet. The place eats, sleeps and breaths entrepreneurship. Everyone we met – from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, to Eventbrite’s Julia Harz or Google’s Obi Felten – confirmed a local culture that is infectious in building businesses at scale. Why? Because they believe that a business fails not only by missing targets, but by not setting goals that are ambitious enough. And the money and skills are there to give these ideas wings.

An idea by itself has no value in business – this is why it is impossible to lay rights to an idea and legally protect it. Silicon Valley in it’s entirety is a workshop full of the varied skills you need to build those ideas into products and services the world wants to buy. It is the fearlessness of the place that’s impressive – it always looks to build at scale from the outset. Everyone – entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, technologists – are not afraid to place their bets on new ideas that might just take over the world. With each new idea that succeeds, the bar is raised and all those involved in that success story rally behind the new one and help make it desirable for the market.

The conclusion of my whirlwind visit is clear: if you think big, take your ideas to be ‘made’ in the workshop that is Silicon Valley.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Categories
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.

Categories
Obelisk In Action Women in Law

The First 100 Years Official Launch

As Prime Minister in the late 1940s Clement Attlee oversaw many of Britain’s most progressive reforms around workers rights, families and the Law. The Fair Wages Resolution, universal family allowances and Legal Aid all entered British society during Attlee’s time in Government. So it was perfectly fitting that his portrait should oversee the official launch of The First 100 Years at the House of Lords last Thursday, in the room that bears his name.

At 3.30pm last Thursday, 100 people stepped from a bright and modern London day into the calm tradition of the Attlee Room – where cucumber sandwiches and cream teas were served and friends, colleagues and new contacts created a true metropolitan buzz – to witness the launch of a new, pioneering project that is about to take a vitally important look at the history of women in the Law.

The First 100 Years – created by Dana Denis-Smith, the CEO of Obelisk Support, and supported by The Law Society and The Bar Council – will chart and celebrate the journey of women in the legal profession from 1919 to present day. This four year project has been timed to mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 2019.

The launch attracted top names from across the legal profession, academia and the FTSE 100. Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Herbert Smith, Thomson Reuters, BT, M&S, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, KPMG, Oxford University, The Law Society, The Bar Council, the Inner Temple and 39 Essex Street were all on the guest list, and clearly excited to be at the Palace of Westminster to see The First 100 Years make its first official public appearance.

Some guests who arrived early drifted naturally towards Victoria Tower Gardens, next to Black Rod’s entrance to the House of Lords, where the Emmeline Pankhurst statue stands and four women sat talking on a park bench. This impromptu gathering captured the spirit and the purpose of The First 100 Years. Sitting on that bench was Baroness Cohen, the Labour Peer and lawyer who graduated from Cambridge in 1962, Laura Pankhurst, the Suffragette’s great-great-granddaughter who is reading Law at Cambridge today, Madeleine Heggs, who started her own legal practice 60 years ago and Dana Denis-Smith, who worked as a solicitor at Linklaters before establishing Obelisk in 2012. Between them, these four women represent the past, present and future of female lawyers and women in the workplace. In the journey of The First Hundred Years, this gentle gathering in Victoria Tower Gardens will no doubt go down in history as one of the first great steps.

The first speaker was Lady Elizabeth Cruikshank, a former Chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitors and author of “Women in the Law”. A natural storyteller, Lady Cruikshank set out the hurdles that female lawyers have faced over the last 100 years, despite the shortage of men in British society after the two world wars. Lady Cruickshank said the legal profession lost 3,000 solicitors during the First World War, but even after the devastation of 1918 the sector was still carefully managed so that it remained the domain of wealthy men.

“If you go back to 1919 when the Sex Disqualification Removal Act was introduced, solicitors earned around £200 a year when qualified. You have to reason that the purpose wasn’t just keeping out women but also working class men. The Law at this time was seriously elitist.”

The only women working in the Law in the post war years were the daughters of men who owned family firms. Some fathers would insist their daughters worked in the firm rather than go off to university, which was seen as an unnecessary expense. But despite these initial introductions to the legal profession, with some possible openings, women were still terribly under-represented in the Law as modern Britain emerged from the aftermath of the wars.

Lady Cruickshank said: “By 1962 fewer than 500 women had qualified as solicitors. Those who did qualify went on to be sole practitioners or joined the family firm. It was very difficult to go into a practice as a woman if you were not related or married to a male lawyer.”

“But from the 1960s onwards, more women have entered the legal sector, and from this platform, have gone on to work in other areas of the Law becoming Mayors, JPs and representatives of their local Law Society. In the City, it’s only in the last 30 years that progress has been made, leading to women being given promotions.”

Lady Cruickshank thanked Dana Denis-Smith for launching The First 100 Years project, which will highlight these hurdles from the past in detail and help create an increasingly positive future for female lawyers across the UK; “a strong and equal future for all women in the profession” as the project website says.

Madeleine Heggs, the first woman in Britain to be appointed as a commissioner, asked if anyone in the room could beat her 60 years in the legal profession. It was a rhetorical question, met with smiles and warm applause.

Whereas Lady Cruickshank had talked about the legal profession in general, Madeleine Heggs spoke about her own personal and remarkable experiences of being both a female lawyer and a mother from the mid-1950s onwards.

Her career began in 1949, when she joined a City firm as an articled clerk and began her studies via the Law Society’s School of Law and London University. After spending some time in America, Madeleine Heggs came back to London in 1954, where she finally qualified as a solicitor in 1955 and secured her first job as a conveyancing solicitor.

Looking back on these times, Madeline Heggs told the crowd in the Attlee Rooms that it was widely expected that women would leave their legal career behind once they married or started a family. But this remarkable woman, who is defined by her rejection of the norm and her commitment to social justice, did not follow this convention. When Madeleine Heggs became pregnant in 1957, she kept on working, setting up her own practice at home and combining this with family life.

“It was half practice, half babies, and it was jolly hard work. In those days you didn’t have nannies. Thank goodness we have dishwashers these days. Life was very different in 1955. If you worked, it was seen as a reflection on your husband – that he was not earning enough. It was looked down on. And if you were pregnant and you told your employer I’m having a baby, they’d just say ‘bye bye – come back and see us when the baby is born.”

Like many female lawyers, Madeleine Heggs eventually moved from private practice to a wider legal role within society. In 1976, she was appointed Chairman of the National Insurance Local Tribunal. In 1978 she was awarded the Presidency of the Appeal Tribunal. In 1981 she became Social Security and Child Support Commissioner and in 1995 she was appointed deputy regional chairman of the Mental Health Review Tribunals.

The final speaker was Dana Denis-Smith herself, who echoed Madeleine Heggs’ story from 1957 of work being ‘half practice, half babies’. Showing how history is very much alive today, Dana said: “We have very similar stories, but years apart. Stories are at the heart of The First 100 Years project, which we first started working on one year ago, after I saw a photograph that was taken to celebrate the centenary of one of the top 10 law firms. There were 60 men in the photo, and one woman.”

That woman was in the crowd at the Attlee Room last Thursday.

Dana said: “We have achieved so much in that first year. We have a great following on social media. We have got a number of supporters and some great fans. The next stage is building a digital museum, creating content, making videos and sharing information. And for 2019 we will be campaigning to erect a monument to skilled women in the office, so people everywhere can see us.”

The launch was followed by a private tour of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with tales from within these hallowed, legal walls of Margaret Thatcher, William and Mary and the Suffragettes.

As the tour drew to a close, the party was sitting in the No Lobby in the House of Commons, just as Big Ben chimed six. As the sound of the bell rang through the chamber, it felt as if you could reach out and touch a hundred years of history, and that projects like The First Hundred Years are ringing in a new, positive and progressive future for women in the workplace everywhere.

Categories
Women in Law

Column of Strength: It Started With A Bump

It’s Friday the 13th today but I always do away with the superstition. In my family the ‘13th’ is a date which we celebrate, and today is all the more special as it marks our daughter’s 4th birthday. It is also 4 years 7 months and 1 day since Obelisk Support was born. Perhaps, then, a good time to spare a thought and reflect on the business’ beginnings and the journey thus far?

Put simply, it started with a bump. At the time I founded the business I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my first child. Many suppose that the idea of the business was born out of my own search for a way to balance my family with legal work. But that is not the case.

Obelisk Support was my return to the legal profession having spent a few years running my first venture in political risk analysis. I suppose, in a sense, it was a career break from the practice of law but not for the motherhood reasons assumed.

That 3 year break from the law gave me the perspective to come up with a new approach to flexibility and to focus on a group that, in my view, had been left uncared for – parents (in particular mothers) who left the profession to focus on raising their families. To me, they became a buried treasure that I was keen to unearth, polish and display again. If work could be outsourced to India, the Philippines or Belfast, surely then it can be outsourced to the very people who we trained, who we had invested in before they had children, who lived nearer us? My idea was welcomed with caution by my lawyer friends who thought little of my venture into the ‘start up’ world. However, Charlotte, a friend who was working with me in the political risk business, agreed to give the legal start up a try. But, even then, one of my lawyer friends went as far as to warn me that Obelisk would not last long in the tank ‘full of sharks’.

The start of the journey was not an easy one. It is never easy in a start-up but the ‘bump’, in my case, kept getting in the way of securing work. At meetings to introduce our flexible service, which would be offered by the 10 lawyers we had secured, the focus would invariably turn to the bump and what it could mean for the future of the business. ‘Are you planning on giving up once you have the child?’ was a regular question. But how could I? I had only just begun, and the baby and the bump were happily coming on this journey with me, everywhere. It is perhaps no surprise that one of my daughter’s earliest career aspirations was to become a lawyer!

The business started trading in earnest once the bump was out of the way in 2011. Of course I had to learn quickly the balancing act of being a new mother with a new business, and having no resources to pour money into 24 hour childcare in order to focus on the business alone. The child and the business had to coexist and grow at the same pace, each demanding their fair share of my time. One during the day, the other during the night.

Early champions were mostly men. My husband, John – a lawyer. Nick Eastwell, an ex-partner in my old firm Linklaters. And people such as Professor Stephen Mayson, who understood how Obelisk fitted into the new legal landscape and that the future belonged to us. They offered the beacon that guided me all these years towards a better and stronger business. I recall with affection a first meeting with one of our largest clients – an international bank – where the childcare fell through an hour before it was due to begin. My husband rushed from his office to take charge of looking after the sleeping baby, whilst I rushed out to make it just as the hour struck. No words were exchanged, just an understanding that this was important, that it could be a crossroads for Obelisk. And so it was that one of the largest and most respected banks in the world became a client. This was just another Cinderella-like tale that summed up the whirlwind life of a new mother and her start up business.

Awards, clients and a core team followed. The pace increased to the point that my working time moved from ad hoc hours on the business (mainly during the night) to part time and, since January 2015, to full time. This has been a journey that has taught me much – not least the art of flexibility, of treasuring versatility in your skills and the importance of believing in your dreams.

So it is that today I look at Obelisk: a bigger and stronger legal business swimming happily in the tank full of sharks. Just like my daughter, the speed of change and growth is tremendous. And so, it makes me proud, alert, energised and happy to raise a toast and wish many happy returns to them both, my home and my work.

 

 

Categories
Obelisk In Action Women in Law

The First 100 Years: No Gift Horse for Women

There are more tributes to dogs, cats and sheep in the City of London than women, says Dana Denis-Smith who is on a mission to celebrate the history and achievements of women in law.

The First 100 Years project launched earlier this month at the House of Lords in front of nearly 100 supporters from across the legal profession. The official launch marked the first year since I initiated this five-year project with the aim of creating the UK’s first digital museum dedicated to the history of women in law. The museum will include an online library of 100 original videos and hundreds of photographs, stories and artefacts about women who have shaped the legal profession since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers to present day.

Celebration of women in law

As support from all corners of the profession has grown over the last year, The First 100 Years has blossomed into an absolute celebration of women’s role in the profession, with an extensive programme of activities and events planned in the run-up to the centenary of the Act in 2019, which we plan to mark by erecting the first monument to the skilled working woman in the City of London. After finding out that there are more tributes to dogs, cats and sheep in the City then there are women, we have become determined that a monument must be put in place to celebrate the many skilled working women who have paved the way for their successors in the professions.

Big names 

The official launch attracted big names from across the legal profession, academia and the FTSE 100. Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Herbert Smith, Thomson Reuters, BT, Marks & Spencer, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, KPMG, Oxford University, The Law Society, The Bar Council, the Inner Temple and 39 Essex Street were all on the guest list, as was Laura Pankhurst (great-great granddaughter of Emmeline herself) who is currently reading law at Cambridge.

We were kindly hosted by Baroness Janet Cohen, who was also the focus of the project’s very first video. Guests heard from Lady Elizabeth Cruikshank, a former Chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitors and author of “Women in the Law”.

Hurdles

A natural storyteller, Lady Cruikshank set out the hurdles that female lawyers have faced over the last 100 years, she explained: By 1962 fewer than 500 women had qualified as solicitors. Those who did qualify went on to be sole practitioners or joined the family firm. It was very difficult to go into a practice as a woman if you were not related or married to a male lawyer. But from the 1960s onwards, more women have entered the legal sector, and from this platform, have gone on to work in other areas of the Law becoming Mayors, JPs and representatives of their local Law Society. In the City, it’s only in the last 30 years that progress has been made, leading to women being given promotions.”

Against convention

She was followed by Madeleine Heggs, who reflected own personal and remarkable experiences of being both a female lawyer and a mother for the past 60 years. Her career began in 1949, when she joined a City firm as an articled clerk and began her studies via the Law Society’s School of Law and London University. After spending some time in America, Madeleine Heggs came back to London in 1954, where she finally qualified as a solicitor in 1955 and secured her first job as a conveyancing solicitor.

Looking back on these times, Madeline Heggs told the crowd in the Attlee Rooms that it was widely expected that women would leave their legal career behind once they married or started a family. But this remarkable woman, who is defined by her rejection of the norm and her commitment to social justice, did not follow this convention. When Madeleine Heggs became pregnant in 1957, she kept on working, setting up her own practice at home and combining this with family life.

“It was half practice, half babies, and it was jolly hard work. In those days you didn’t have nannies. Thank goodness we have dishwashers these days. Life was very different in 1955. If you worked, it was seen as a reflection on your husband – that he was not earning enough. It was looked down on. And if you were pregnant and you told your employer I’m having a baby, they’d just say ‘bye bye – come back and see us when the baby is born.”

Like many female lawyers, Madeleine Heggs eventually moved from private practice to a wider legal role within society. In 1976, she was appointed Chairman of the National Insurance Local Tribunal. In 1978 she was awarded the Presidency of the Appeal Tribunal. In 1981 she became Social Security and Child Support Commissioner and in 1995 she was appointed deputy regional chairman of the Mental Health Review Tribunals.

Sharing information 

It is stories like Madeline’s of women’s life in law – both past and present – that we want to hear and share to show how little and how much has changed in our journey in the profession. With the support of The Law Society, the Bar Council, CiLex, among others, the project is looking to hear from all members of the profession about women that inspired their career, as well as building a comprehensive timeline of women’s rise in the profession by discovering law firm heritage, including any early pioneers or firsts for women. You can nominate yourself or someone you know. The project is also searching for biographies, photographs and stories of inspirational women across the last 95 years. Follow First 100 Years on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, email your stories and comments to [email protected], or visit the website for more information.

Categories
Trending Women in Law

The Discounted Value of Working Mothers

Am I surprised to learn that working mums earn less after having a baby? No – just surprised that it’s taken this long for a fuss to be made. It’s been a taboo subject for many years, with women having to quietly accept lesser roles and responsibilities and a pay cut to match, fearful that complaining would jeopardise their future. However much companies claim to be supportive of working mothers, according to maternitycover.com, more than 68% of new mums claim to earn less than before giving birth.

Work-life balance is a zero sum game, as employers make the assumption that mothers cannot be equally committed to their family and their work – so working mums suffer from ‘discounted value’. This is as ludicrous as it is unfair. Working mothers are way more focussed and organised once they return to work – in fact, 73% of women say they are better employees as a result of becoming a mum. Having advised and encouraged hundreds of women facing this situation to continue working flexibly, here is the best way to approach it.

  1. Your career is a series of jobs and is based on evolution, so the key is to keep going and doing some work – even if it’s not the best-paid work – in order to have a continuous work journey.
  2. Changing direction and being creative with your choices is important – versatility and adaptability are vital characteristics in today’s labour market.
  3. Last but not least – ‘value’ yourself and ask for what you think you are worth. This is an exercise that should be done regularly so that you can throw into the pot the qualities you bring, as well as your particular demands, in order to make an informed next career move.

Yes we can be dismayed, but we also need to be pragmatic until the day employers wake up and notice the true value of the working mothers they employ. It is surely only a matter of time.

Categories
Women in Law

The First 100 Years: The Missing Link

Grand portraits hang in the halls of our profession’s historic buildings – from the Law Society to the Inns of Court – and coherently chart the history of men in the legal profession over hundreds of years. They tell of imposing, confident, impressive individuals that have been some of the country’s leading names in law. Not so for women – however confident, achieving, impressive and successful their story, it is not written in canvas and oil as few of them have risen to the top. It is high time that this should change.

Enter the First 100 Year project I initiated and Obelisk Support, my business, has funded and coordinated since 10 March 2014. It all began with an image from 1982 – that of one woman surrounded by a group of 50 or so male partners marking the 100th anniversary of one of the City of London’s best known law firms. I was fascinated to understand how it felt to be the only woman and what her journey in the legal profession had been. I was anxious to ask her how it felt to be a lonely star? And I am delighted Dorothy Livingston, the sole woman in the middle of the photograph, has embraced the project and will share her story with us all.

The aim of the First 100 Years project was ambitious and clearly defined from the outset: a 5 year project (2014-2019) to create the world’s first digital museum (www.first100years.org.uk) dedicated to the journey of women in law. It would include 100 video personal stories of women lawyers as well as hundreds of digitised artefacts and exclusive content to chart our own journey in the legal profession since 1919 to the present.

There’s no doubt that as I reflect on the project’s first, foundation year (2014-2015), we have achieved a lot: we have a great following on social media, have acquired partnership from all of the main legal bodies (including the Law Society and the Bar Council), we filmed our first video with Lady Cohen, a solicitor who now sits in the House of Lords as a Labour peer. Our visitors to the project website spend an average 5 minutes reading our stories.

There’s something empowering about understanding one’s history and celebrating. Although the family tree for women in law goes back less than 100 years, it is for us all to bring each piece of the puzzle we possess to make the picture complete. If not for our sake, for the sake of the next generation of women in law who need to build on the confidence of the past to secure an equal future.