Women in Law

We spend a lot of time celebrating the progress being made in diversity and gender equality in the legal industry. However, every so often we come across a statistic or study that makes us stop and realise just how much more work needs to be done to invest in female talent and to get rid of gender bias.

One that stood out to us recently was the realisation that still only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs. Add to that the continuing pattern across industries that the higher up the ranks a woman gets, the pay gap widens, as seen in a study by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). Even women who have branched out on their own find they come up against more barriers to progress than their male counterparts. Female founders and business leaders are struggling to achieve investment – a truly shocking 91% of publicly announced growth company cash investment deals were companies without a single female founder.

Within law, the picture is just as disheartening. Though there are many measures being taken to improve opportunities for women, they don’t seem to be having the effect one would hope. A McKinsey study of North American law firms, Women in the Workplace 2017, found only 19% of equity partners are women, and women are 29% less likely to reach the first level of partnership than are men

All Talk, No Action on Gender Bias?

It appears for all the progress in conversations around the importance of enabling more women to succeed and thrive in her chosen career path, there is a huge gap between acknowledging problems and taking the steps to address them. Gender bias is still very much present in big business decisions.

Why are companies, law firms and investors still reluctant to put their money where their mouth is? Here are just some of the lingering problems preventing investment in female talent, and the measures that need be taken to resolve them.

Problem #1 Unconscious Gender Bias

Investors, employers and company boards are all too often surrounded by people that look and think the way they do – the all too familiar ‘Old Boys Club’. This is not necessarily down to overt, conscious sexism or aversion to diversity – more that people don’t see the problem with being surrounded by people who look like and have similar backgrounds to themselves. It is important to confront the gender bias that we hold and teach ways to overcome them.

Measures to take: Facebook recently revealed that they have created an anti bias training course for employees, to help them interrupt and correct bias where they see it in the workplace. The company has also shared information, videos and presentations on its website for public access, so this a good place to start for anyone thinking of implementing their own anti-bias training for themselves or their employees.

Problem #2 Caregivers and Flexible Working

Employers are still far more concerned about women taking time out to have children or to care for family members than they are about men. Though parental and caring responsibilities are becoming more equally shared, women remain primary caregivers in our society, and therefore either have to juggle endlessly or step back from their career path. Women with family commitments, or those simply seen as being of childbearing age/circumstance may still be overlooked for promotion or ‘demanding’ roles due to the reluctance to allocate for flexible working.

Measures to take: It’s time for more organisations to take flexible working seriously as a wider part of company culture, rather than a case by case solution to a problem. Employers and employees both play a role in making this happen. The Law Society of Ireland provides a clear and comprehensive guide to conversations and statistics around flexible working practices. The more commonplace flexible working becomes in our industry, the less barriers primary caregivers will face in career progression.

Problem #3 Lack of Incentivisation

Something that is often missing from the conversations around inequality is incentives for organisations to invest efforts to tackle the gender bias problem for the benefit of all. There is real pressing need for companies to invest in female talent to drive extraordinary returns and the economy forward.

Measures to take: Look at the proof of the business case for gender equality. This McKinsey study is a few years old but shows just how essential female talent is for competitiveness, with companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnicity diversity statistically less likely to achieve above average monetary returns compared to other similar companies. Obelisk Support is also living proof that tearing up the traditions and focusing on both men and women who want to work differently can lead to big things – global expansion, policy influence, award recognition, and being an important part of the drive for change in the legal industry. We have seen first hand the rewards that can be reaped from investing in female talent.

Problem #4 Lingering Belief in Inequality

Underlying all these issues is that a small but significant portion of society still believes that women are not equal to men in terms of ability and potential to lead and play the same roles in society. That is a far bigger problem to address, but facing up to this uncomfortable reality can help shape conversations we need to have to deconstruct societal imbalance and change thinking.

Measures to take: There is no single remedy to this overarching issue, just the continuation of discussion and of efforts to change what we can in our own pool in order to create a ripple effect. Despite slower progress than we might have expected in some areas, it is important not to lose hope and realise that small changes come together to change the culture at large. We are heading in the right direction to eradicate these ideas once and for all.

Women in Law

As part of the aims of the First 100 Years project, Spark 21 held the third annual conference providing a cross-sector platform to debate ‘Women Leaders in Law: a 21st Century Conversation’.

The First Hundred Years in 2017

Dana Denis-Smith, the founder of First 100 Years and CEO of Obelisk Support, welcomed the event’s largest audience so far and thanked the hosts, Simmons & Simmons LLP.

First 100 Years is soon to be expanded into France and Australia – in particular as Australia is celebrating its centenary for women a year ahead of England and Wales, in 2018. Dana set the tone by saying we are moving beyond hackneyed phrases on diversity by opening up a wider discussion and debate on promoting women leaders in the legal profession.

Christina Blacklaws, President Elect of The Law Society, praised the project in creating a unique archive of the history of women pioneers in law and resources offering a wide range of positive role model of women in law. She highlighted the work still to be done to achieve parity and equality, as the pay differential and partnership statistics for women are still woeful. Blacklaws then announced the launch of a far-reaching Law Society programme (working with the Bar and Lexis Nexis). This will comprise of research and round-table discussions facilitated by women, so that empirical data can be gathered to form the foundations of concrete proposals to redress the imbalances and effect change, culminating in a global summit in the centenary year 2019.

She urged everyone to participate in the discussions and continue the documenting of the stories of women in the legal profession. This call to action theme – the need for personal action and contribution to the wider debate – is one that was echoed throughout the day by enthusiastic questions, comments both in the hall and on Twitter #First100Years.

Panel: History of Women in Law

The historical context of women’s’ leadership was the topic of the next panel chaired by journalist Catherine Baksi. She described the journey of diversity from a time 100 years ago women were not considered ‘persons’ and therefore couldn’t become lawyers, the passing of The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, and posed the question of how this is represented at the leadership level today. Keith Krasny, leadership coach, observed that women don’t lack leadership skills; and their skills might be right for the new type of legal firms created by disruption. Professor Lisa Webley, University of Westminster. Bruce Macmillan, in-house lawyer and director of The Center for Legal Leadership, gave practical advice: recruit on technical skills and behaviours. If people are preventing diversity initiative, make them accountable for their decisions, added Sam Smethers CEO of the Fawcett Society.

Keynote: #HeForShe by Lord Neuberger

Our #HeforShe keynote speaker Lord Neuberger followed on with his crisp distillation of principles of the importance of championing diversity in law, focusing on women in particular. 50 % of the population are women, therefore it’s a basic equality point; the failure to promote diversity in all its forms is a blatant waste of talent. “If you truly believe that women are less good at law than men, trying telling that to Brenda Hale!” he said. A more diverse profession (and from his stand point, judiciary) is needed more than ever in the current times to uphold the rule of law; this will foster greater trust by the public as a whole.

In essence, we need an inclusive and representative judiciary. Lord Neuberger spoke of male only application forms were still in use at Lincolns Inn in 1987. You had to manually cross out ‘he’ and ‘him’ and substitute ‘she’ and ‘her’, which epitomised the exclusion culture. Taking questions from the floor, he was direct and honest in his reflections that that in the past there was tolerance of behaviour prejudicial to women in law, and even included his own conduct. He agreed that everything we must work towards for women applies equally or more for BAME lawyers. At the end of the session, the hashtag #HeforShe was trending.

Panel: #HeForShe

The next session continued with the #HeForShe theme, further exploring how can men help women in the profession and reach the higher echelons. Catherine Baksi, led the discussion with Andrew Langdon QC, Chairman of The Bar Council talked about the positive effect of flexible working hours and mandatory mentoring pairing. Chris White, Founder, Aspiring Solicitors said it’s important for leaders to have accountability and responsibility and change to happen now needs more proactive action to call-out abuses.

Suzanne Szczetnikowitcz, Inspirational Women in Law Finalist and solicitor spoke about the importance of networks and mentoring and highlighting the need to identify rising talent and her role in creating Women in Law in London. James Hanlon, GC, is proud of the great female leadership statistics at IKEA and is a big believer in statutory reporting and that transparency can bring change. Andrew Magowan General Counsel at ASOS talked about how General Counsel can definitely use their buying power to promote diversity amongst their panels and look with rigour at what actually happens, by whom, and not to take diversity claims at pitches at face value.

Harriet Johnson, Inspirational Women in Law Finalist 2017 and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers spoke of how women should overcome their reticence to promote their self and how she and others promoted others through the organisation Women in Criminal Law as a way of overcoming this. One audience member raised the topic of how women who displayed ambition could often be perceived in a negative light. Harriet said she took inspiration from her poster in her chambers which says: ‘Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man’. “We need cultural and institutional change and for men to be a part of that,” she summarised.

In Conversation: Katie Gollop QC and Nemone Lethbridge

Katie Gollop QC, from Serjeants Inn Chambers gave an extraordinary account of the barriers and hurdles of her very colourful personal and professional life as a female barrister. This interview was recorded for the BBC radio 4 Law in Action programme, scheduled to be broadcast on November.

She was one of two women reading Law at Somerville College at Oxford  in 1952 and described how her tutor treated them with contempt as they ‘would only go on to commit the crime of matrimony’. She described in extraordinary detail the exclusion of women at the Bar at her chambers, where a lock was put on the lavatory door and all the men were given a key except her – she had to go to a café on Fleet Street.

She persisted and told her truly extraordinary life story, her clients the Kray twins, and of wearing pink kid gloves to the Old Bailey. On being asked her best practice tip she advised “always put yourself in the client’s shoes. Try to imagine what it’s like to be them.” To her, legal work is about fighting injustice and she still works at the law centre she founded in Stoke Newington.

Panel: #SheForShe

We were then joined by Dame Jenni Murray who led the #SheForShe Women Leaders in Law panel. There was some discussion and disagreement about whether women made different leaders to men – but there was consensus about the importance of authenticity. We listened to Nilema Bhakta-Jones, General Counsel for Ascential plc on the importance of leaders allowing themselves to be the best version of themselves and not to shy away from traits of nurture, empathy and service.

Millicent Grant, President of CILEx, spoke passionately about her struggle to be given the opportunities to prove herself, how she found it in the public sector and her inspirational colleagues who told her to ‘do it fearfully’ – she also stated her belief that women do have different leadership styles – and that a breadth of styles is to be encouraged. Shanika Amarasekara, General Counsel described her varied career experiences leading to her current role at the British Business Bank and the importance of sensitivity in leadership. Oonagh Harpur, Leadership coach and former Linklaters’ partner stated “We will have arrived when men and women can lead in their own authentic way as we need different styles at different times.” Vidisha Joshi, Managing Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen spoke about her experiences at her firm where there is a heartening 70% female partnership.

Panel: Dame Jenni Murray and Her Honor Judge Joanna Korner CMG, QC, Crown Court Judge and former Prosecutor at The International Criminal Tribunal

Dame Jenni Murray then interviewed Her Honour Judge Joanna Korner CMG QC, Crown Court Judge and former Prosecutor at The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia about her experiences prosecuting three genocide trials relating to the Bosnian conflict. She spoke of her early experience at the Bar and her former pupil mistress playing a key role in her success.

How Do We Create Positive Change For Women Leaders in Law?

The next #SheForShe panel focused on insights from women in the wider public sphere. We listened to classical Hannah Kendall who told us there were no women composers taught on the school curriculum until 2017. She emphasised the importance of visibility, and the need to challenge unconscious bias and who we imagine can do certain jobs. Alina Addison, leadership coach and former Rothschild banker talked about her life experience and how her son’s autism was a catalyst for change, propelling her into the sphere of coaching.  Reena SenGupta, founder of FT Innovative Lawyers discussed her career leap was down to her deep interest for the project, her interest in others and how having helped people in the past will establish future connections – so give of yourself. Renee Elliott, founder of Planet Organic, explored her success through selling skills and not yourself; being passionate about what you’re doing and preparing for the hard questions.

Panel: Justine Thornton QC and the Right Honourable Lord Hodge, Justice of the Supreme Court

The following session was billed as The Reunion. An intriguing teaser – pleasingly arising from the first conference where Justine Thornton QC posed the then panellist, the Right Honourable Lord Hodge, Justice of the Supreme Court a question about the number of female judicial appointees. She was then inspired to apply to the judiciary and told her cohort 39% new deputy high court judges are female. They echoed the imperative stated by Lord Neuberger that judicial diversity is so important to the rule of law. Justine Thornton QC says don’t get despondent about knock backs – ff you don’t get pupillage/training contract, work around and come back.

Keynote: Lady Justice Thirlwall DBE, Deputy Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales

“You don’t have a choice about being a woman! Do not allow yourself to be diminished!”

The closing keynote speaker, The Right Honourable Lady Justice Thirlwall DBE, Deputy Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, gave a moving, tour de force, final speech. She touched on the importance of having resilience – never be held back by the thought others will say you only got the case, appointment, silk because you’re a woman. She described her a visit to her old school the 6th form pupils, who told her about the First 100 Years project and re-enacted the (possibly apocryphal) race down Chancery Lane in 1920s of the women to become awarded the accolade of being the first female solicitor. She concluded with the stirring words: “Someone gave me a baton and I’ve passed it on!”

Darren Jones MP for Bristol West and former BT lawyer

We carried on the conversation chatting together at the drinks reception afterwards, where The Right Honourable Darren Jones MP for Bristol West and former BT lawyer talked about the imperative of  fighting against discrimination ‘For equality to exist and grow, men must stand up to and call out inequality’. He concluded that of course he has frustrations with the current debate about sexual harassment in parliament, but that ‘cultural changes come from all of us and that shoulder to shoulder, we will achieve change.’

With thanks to all speakers and attendees, and host Simmons and Simmons LLP.

Obelisk In Action

We were really lucky to have Terry Miller OBE talk about concrete and practical things that have made a difference in her varied and successful career, and the question was posed to our Wednesday Live audience about what has made a difference in their journey through work. Terry told us that overall, her success was borne out of realising what mattered most at the different stages in her life, not to mention making time to nurture outside interests will maintain drive and avoid burnout. She also provided some more detailed advice about keeping your career on track and forging one’s own path to success…

1. Don’t slam doors on your way out

Over the course of your professional life you are likely to have several jobs, particularly working as a freelance consultant, and will meet and work alongside many people. These people are your network, for good and bad. Ideally, your lasting impression is one that ensures they will recommend you and bear you in mind for future opportunities.

2. Maximise every encounter with physical and mental preparation

It’s vital that every time you meet or speak with someone you consider the impression you give – you may not get a second chance to remedy a less than ideal encounter.

  • Mental preparation – Anticipate what to expect. Reduce points to diagrams, read documents several times if necessary. Be concise and stick to what you know: if you don’t know something, say this early and don’t waffle.
  • Physical preparation – Choose outfits for important times as your ‘battle dress’ – comfortable, well-fitting clothes that you look good and feel confident in. Pay attention to your posture and avoid crossing your legs when seated as this folds the body in on itself. Practice a ‘superwoman’ power-pose and breathing exercises beforehand. Speak in a measured, non-rushed tone and be commanding – avoid upward inflection when making statements and you are less likely to be challenged.

3. Leadership is about managing people

No matter how brilliant you are no one ever does anything by themselves. The most important skill to learn is to surround yourself with excellent people.

  • Give constructive criticism – do so immediately, couch it in terms that this is something that can be fixed, deliver with emotion.
  • The art of really listening – Terry cited the virtue of MBWA (management by walking around). Boundaries are required for concentration and short but regular updates to ensure goals are met.
  • Be supportive under pressure – Terry said that at LOCOG they had a small soft chimp toy that was passed to those who were experiencing a bad day or difficult time as an act of team support and sympathy.

4. Position yourself for promotion

Act as if you are already there, this channels your focus and helps determine how people regard you. Terry described in the final two years before being made a partner at Goldman Sachs, how she decided to act as if she had already been appointed – not to mislead but to inform her conduct in meetings and running projects  as a partner would, with conviction and authority.

5. Take charge of your career

Think every six months about how your career is developing. People thrive if they take responsibility for their career, and drift if they expect others to do so.

6. Priorities – low-hanging fruit or tackling the hard stuff?

Terry’s personal approach is to tackle the hard topic by setting an initial hour limit to make it seem manageable.

7. The value of the early no and the sympathetic no

You need to be decisive about what you can do or not do. The longer you delay or leave your response open-ended, the more difficult it is to get out of, so an early no is vital.

The ‘sympathetic no’ is better received. Even if the answer is ‘I’m sorry I have to say no, I’ve looked at it from all angles,’ it has the benefit of being decisive and inclusive. It can be couple with a constructive end, e.g. ‘we can revisit this at another time or start from different position’.

8. The value of the second alternative

Put the option that works best  for you as a second choice when presenting options to others: ‘What would you prefer? We can either pick this up in two weeks or we can deal with it now?’ In Terry’s experience, this invariably works!

9. Be realistic about having it all

Terry discussed her own career trajectory and balancing her own life priorities as a parent as maintaining a slower longer position on the career ladder, but on her terms. Her outlook is that it is possible to have it all job, parenting or outside passions, but not all at the same time.

10. Take advantage of the unexpected and the challenge of the unknown

In 2005, Terry’s plan was to step out of partnership and focus on horse riding. However, she was invited to become the general counsel of LOCOG, the opportunity of a lifetime. This required her to accept a complete change of personal plans and go into many new areas.

Final thoughts – Mistakes and mentors

There were two particularly interesting questions from the audience: the first regarding mistakes – Terry said it was her experience that being honest and dealing with them directly is the best policy; this fosters trust and an ability to focus on solutions rather than a more unhelpful process of others finding out later.

The second related to Terry’s experience of mentoring. Ideally, this would be done by your manager, someone who wants you to perform at the best of your ability. However, she also said there was an important role of a ‘truth teller’ someone who could give more objective advice and this may be someone higher up the organisation.

Terry Miller OBE is an independent non-executive director of the British Olympic Association, a  director and trustee of the Invictus Games Foundation and a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs international bank, having previously worked as international general counsel. She was also general counsel for the London Organising of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) from 2006- 2013.

Making Work, Work

As the nature of our working offices changes, office workers, remote workers, flexible workers, and those that do a bit of all those things are all part of the company structure. This means that, more than ever, trust and support is a vital component of good management.

Trust leads to higher morale and loyalty throughout the organisation. Trust in colleagues is a key part of a collaborative, productive and positive working culture: it is the foundation of leadership and management. Managers need to trust their employees to have the integrity to do the work with minimal direct supervision, particularly if flexible working is to flourish.

Any manager who wants to foster trust will find it fairly easy to assess the integrity of long term and permanent members of staff. It can be more difficult when using temporary, remote or freelance workers on a project-by-project basis to afford them the same independence. Consultants may find themselves dealing with two extremes of a lack of trust in management: a.) being left alone too much as the manager is reluctant to bring them in to the inner workings of the business, leaving them unable to see their role in the broader context of the business, or b.) having to deal with micromanagement, slowing down their work with unnecessary reviews, meetings, being unable to take responsibility for tasks and relying on the input of the manager. It’s easy to see how this can impair the performance of both sides in either scenario. A lack of delegation and communication will inevitably lead to mutual mistrust of each other’s capabilities and ability to work together to achieve overall goals.

Having access to a high quality pool of independent talent who can be part of the business in all senses can help alleviate worries when bringing in contract or freelance consultants. Using a network of experienced legal talent, many of whom have worked for many years within practices and in legal services, means the consultant can be vouched for and has a proven record of working independently, working to understand the long term needs of clients beyond their own role.

Creating a culture of trust

Trust, as they say, is something to be earned – but it is also something to be learned. In business, trust can be thought of as a vital skill that must be built on throughout the working relationship. It ebbs and flows, but it must always be nurtured and checked. Building trust in work is no different to doing so in other relationships. It’s important to:

Be authentic

You don’t have to share details of your life you may not be comfortable with, but it does help to connect with those you work with on more than a professional level. Talking about family, office anecdotes, sharing opinions offers a window to the self that is behind the work, all those things help you feel more comfortable within the circle and allow others to feel more comfortable around you too.

Find common ground in your work

Offering a sense of who you are can help see where common goals lie. If a manager sees you have a shared level of drive and motivation to achieve something, even if it is in a different way of working to what they may be used to, mutual trust is more likely to be established.

Have regular, honest communication

Regular communication doesn’t have to mean checking up on an individual or micromanagement, but you should be updating one another on project progress and any relevant additional information, offering the opportunity for queries or requests. Providing those opportunities allows the other person to be more open about any potential problems or concerns as and when they arise, rather than feeling that they don’t know how to approach the issue with the other person.

As Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said: “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Trusted employees feel more valued and are more productive, and trusting managers will have more time on their hands to concentrate on the bigger picture.