To celebrate the centenary of the first woman solicitor, we will be focusing on inspirational women solicitors in the City.
To kick things off, president Christina Blacklaws, Amandeep Khasriya (Moore Blatch), Deborah Dalgleish (Ashurst), Therese Prince (legal adviser at the Law Society) and vice-president Simon Davis share their thoughts on the 'Women in Leadership in Law' project, and what it means to them.
Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society
The calibre of solicitors in England and Wales is second to none, and London is the national hub of this talent.
However, it is crucial that we recognise talent in all its diversity to ensure that our profession retains quality people and quality performance. This is both an ethical and a business issue, and we all have a part to play to achieve equality of opportunity and reward for all.
Time is short, and the road is long - the presidency at the Law Society lasts for just a year and I am making every second of it count. The ‘Women in Leadership in Law’ project is one of my presidential themes and looks to address the disproportionate lack of women in leadership in the profession.
We know that although women have represented over 60% of newly qualified solicitors since 1990, and now make up 50.1% of practicing solicitors, yet women only represent 28% of partners in private practice; the figures for equity partner are even starker and, I’m afraid, the larger the business, often, the smaller the percentage of women partners.
Of course, we know that there are many women who are qualified and capable of being leaders in the sector. Most of us are surrounded by them on a daily basis. So why are they not being promoted?
We wanted to find out, so we conducted the largest ever global survey and, over the second half of 2018 got together over 3000 lawyers to hear from them and to encourage the women to become change-makers and leaders in their organisations and the men to become male champions for gender equality.
If you want to get involved, our toolkits are a great place to start. We will be publishing our research on International Women’s Day and holding a conference in London on 20 and 21 June when we’ll launch our Gender Equality Charter and our next set of toolkits. Please do come along.
I have been fortunate to know many remarkable women who have inspired me, encouraged me and supported me throughout my career. One of my role models and a dear friend is former Law Society president and Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf. She is someone who has been absolutely consistent in her generosity, kindness, commitment and determination to make a difference. Fiona has always ‘walked the talk’ and I admire that greatly.
I am pleased that this feature sheds a light on inspirational women in the profession and encourage you to share it with your colleagues, contacts and friends so we can all get to know the achievements of our wonderful women lawyers in the City.
Amandeep Khasriya, associate solicitor at Moore Blatch
Moore Blatch were proud to host a Women in Leadership in Law roundtable discussion in August 2018 as part of the Law Society’s project to hold a 100 roundtables. Associate solicitor Amandeep Khasriya was invited to host a roundtable by Law Society president Christina Blacklaws when they met at the Law Society’s International Women’s Day celebration.
Katherine Maxwell, partner, chaired the roundtable at our City office with 10 internal attendees joining the discussion. They came from diverse backgrounds and across all levels of the business including partners, associates, solicitors, trainees and paralegals.
We had an open and meaningful discussion about some of the barriers women face and considered solutions and best practice guidance to help tackle these issues. Some of the issues we identified for us included delivering unconscious bias training, reviewing our flexible working policy, focusing on mentoring and continuing to work towards our gender pay gap action plan to ensure that we implement the right steps to improve the pay gap.
Diversity in leadership was also a focus point at Moore Blatch’s annual Partners’ Conference held in November. Amandeep was invited to present the Law Society’s 2017 survey results - which indicated that at the current rate of progress, it will take 25 years to achieve gender balance in leadership.
So, for progress to be achieved, gender equality at leadership level needs to be a priority for all firms.
Amandeep says, ‘We are excited to have participated in this project which is designed to drive positive change amongst the profession and help women achieve their potential and become leaders in law. All of our work in this area is underpinned by the support and engagement from our Partners, including our managing partner Ed Whittington who recently attended a male champions roundtable discussion with the Law Society. We have now established a Women in Leadership in Law working group to ensure that our commitment continues. The next 12 months will see the working group, made up of women from all levels of the business, continue to empower female lawyers by tackling barriers to leadership.'
Deborah Dalgleish, head of diversity and inclusion at Ashurst
When the opportunity to participate in the roundtable exercise arose, our managing partner Paul Jenkins had recently conducted a series of round tables in both Australia and the UK. He is the first law firm leader to join a programme called 'Male Champions of Change' in Australia, and conducted an exercise to understand better the conditions and culture that enable women to thrive and succeed into leadership positions in their organisations.
We were therefore keen to participate in this exercise to experience a complementary but different approach to a roundtable focus group, with a mixed group coming together from all levels and from both legal and business services roles (the MCC programme talked to representative groups separately).
The group covered a wide range of issues, including the practical impact of unconscious bias, flexible working, the gender pay gap and what could be offered to further support women at earlier stages of their career.
The outcomes from both exercises were broadly in line, which has given us a helpful steer to where we should be focusing. There remain a number of items on the to do list!
Therese Prince, legal adviser at the Law Society
Representation matters! This is not a statement to be taken lightly. It is true that the more one sees others that look and sound like herself represented in positions of leadership and authority, the more her confidence is bolstered.
For years we have heard and seen that the legal profession is lacking in diversity, particularly in the area of women and ethnic minority representation at senior levels.
Whilst it is true that greater diversity at senior levels of any organisation is likely to lead to fairer and more well-rounded decision making, cultivating new ideas and new business, it is also true that progress has been slow. Never was this more evident to me than when I attended the inaugural ceremony of the Law Society’s 174th president, Christina Blacklaws, who happens to be only the fifth female President of a centuries old profession. That is why I was pleased to see that Christina was keen to make good on her promises to make diversity in the profession a key priority during her presidential year.
I was able to participate in a number of Women in Leadership in Law roundtables, including one hosted by the Society’s in-house legal team and one which I facilitated during a trip to Rwanda.
The roundtables have been personally and professionally beneficial as I have not only had an opportunity to network with senior women in the profession but they have reminded me that I have a voice that ought to be heard. They demonstrate that my representative body is serious about ensuring that I am able to progress, but also that others of a similar background to me are welcome.
It has been a pleasure to observe that the Law Society continues to find creative ways to progress this initiative, including through its sponsorship of this year’s Power of Women Awards fundraising event for Dress for Success Greater London to be held on 4 March 2019.
Simon Davis, vice-president of the Law Society
As a City litigator since dinosaurs strode the earth, I might not be an obvious example of diversity. In fact, neither of my parents went to university and it was only because of a generous bursary from the UK tax payer (which I will always appreciate) that I was able to travel from overseas to have a top-class education in the UK.
I became a solicitor because I wanted to work in teams, bouncing ideas off those who would have a different attitude and experience than me.
In the context of gender far too many professions and businesses, including our own, start with high levels of gender diversity at the beginning of careers which rapidly reduce as those careers progress. This of course can be for societal reasons over which we can have no control, but what our survey tells us is that women leave the profession in greater numbers than men for reasons which we can control and which have at the core the need to ensure that obstacles are not placed in the way of women's career progression.
The approach of the Law Society is all to do with fairness and nothing to do with setting genders against each other; to combine rather than to divide. We have therefore held a series of men's roundtables around the country, including the City. The feedback from those roundtables has been a uniform desire to ensure that men and women have equal opportunities throughout their careers.
Only in this way will we attract and retain the best talent, in the interests of the profession, our clients and the public at large.
Find out more about the 'Women in Leadership in Law' project
Register now for 'The power of gender equality to transform the business of law: an international symposium'