Our Founder’s thoughts, on International Women’s Day, about being a woman in law and the changes in practice that could help the generations who will follow.
“There is a belief widely held amongst ambitious and talented individuals regardless of gender that their talents will be rewarded on merit and in a timely manner. This is untrue if you are a woman in law. The statistics speak for themselves. Unlike other industries, women are not held back upon entry into the profession. What floors us however, is the belated and painful realisation that it is unlikely we will all reach the pinnacle of our profession, no matter how qualified or how brilliant we might be.
I was recently asked by the First 100 Years Team: what is the single thing that would make a real and positive difference in achieving equality for women within the profession? My impatience with the system and its direct discrimination was tested early on forcing me to leave the firm I trained in to start my own at 29. What would have made a difference to me at that time was bearing witness to real commitment to my career from senior members of the firm whom I admired and respected. Those partners would have been two in number and would have reflected diversity of gender. I would have realised first that the path was not straightforward (this was wholly unclear to me when I decided to be a lawyer at 14) but that this was recognised and I was to be supported and championed, instructed and encouraged by role models who had not only had achieved partnership but could bring lessons, truths and experience of how it could be achieved and how they would help me achieve it. There is much talk about role models and their significance – “if you can’t see it you can’t be it” is a statement commonly used. Yes, you do need to see women in partnership positions, but you also need to see both men and women being responsible for holding onto talent and nurturing it as if it were both a commercial and societal responsibility.
I don’t believe in the holy grail of partnership with its archaic, unyielding, groaning and inflexible infrastructure but that is my personal view based on my personal experience. There are many who achieve incredible success in this arena doing what they love. It is however, not the only path to success and personal fulfilment. Far from it. There is no compelling reason why many talented lawyers are required to sacrifice their talents worshipping at the often uncompromising altar of traditional law firm partnership. If change is needed within, my views are as above but otherwise I would hope gifted men and women and those who identify as agender, demi gender, nonbinary and everything in between find or can create a viable way to do what they do best outside of the system. It’s not for everyone, but it is possible. The internet levelled the playing field for me enabling my start up law firm to compete for and secure extraordinary work with scant regard to gender, age or its perceived limitations. AI and improved technology will bring challenges but also greater independence and opportunity. There is so much work to be done to make our world more equal and so I shall sleep tomorrow.”