International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March every year.
To mark the occasion we asked Ateeqa Rajwani, member of our Women Lawyers Division committee, about her experience working with the Law Society, how to participate in International Women’s Day, and how progressive she thinks diversity and inclusion is in the legal profession.
As a recent member of our Women Lawyers Division Committee, how are you finding it so far?
I joined the Women Lawyers Division as a committee member in October 2018, and thus far it has been a combination of empowering and eye-opening.
Recognising that we have a voice but it takes a lot of behind the scenes hard work to have that voice amplified.
During my studies, and the early stages of my career I didn’t think that someone with my background would be in a position like this, so a small but significant highlight so far has been seeing my picture up on the WLD Committee webpage - representation matters.
Do you feel like the committee is a good platform for your voice, experiences and wisdom?
As someone who has struggled with imposter syndrome, and continues to do so, I hope that my presence on the committee helps foreground that perspective.
I hope to contribute to work helping others realise much earlier in their careers that their sense of confidence is not intrinsically linked to their competence and identify/dismantle the structural barriers engendering such feelings.
Is there anything you would encourage people to do to mark International Women’s Day?
I’m really inspired by a particular quote by Adrienne Rich, in her writing about women’s responsibility to one another she says ‘when a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her’.
So I would suggest using the day as an opportunity to speak to your women colleagues about subjects you wouldn’t usually broach, forge meaningful connections and unpack what equality in the legal profession, and society more broadly, means for you all.
See what you can put in place, together, to achieve that in the workplace and beyond. And importantly, recognise and celebrate what you have achieved.
Consider taking part in the Law Society’s #IamAsolicitor campaign by tweeting a picture of yourself with the sign and perhaps offering to answer questions from those who are trying to access or progress through the profession.
My sign says: ‘Free school meals, school uniform vouchers, two stints on Job Seekers Allowance, and the support of incredible and inspiring women urging me on’.
What do you think are the greatest benefits to having an intersectional approach to diversity?
Intersectionality, in my experience, is an oft-used but frequently misunderstood term and currently a bit of buzzword.
Originally coined by the academic Kimberlie Crenshaw in 1989, she argued that women of colour faced unique challenges due to their intersecting minority statuses.
By reducing individuals down to one characteristic such as gender, race or sexuality, we miss the actuality of their lived experience.
A failure to embed this holistic understanding into every stage of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (‘EDI’) work means that there is a real risk that initiatives are not fit for purpose and merely performative - for example, speaker panels not made up of a wide range of experience.
It is massively important therefore that EDI networks don’t work in isolation and consult widely.
Are there are any issues relating to diversity that you are shocked are still prevalent?
Class is not a protected characteristic in equalities legislation, so formalised training and diversity networks tend to overlook the impact of it.
This is despite the fact that many people from working class backgrounds still find it a barrier to navigating confidently through legal professional spaces, for a myriad of reasons that centre around not fitting in to the archetypal middle-class lawyer mould.
The impact starts well before entry to the profession, from a lack of confidence in putting yourself forward, to self-funding a full-time LPC by working part-time and not being able to take advantage of the pro bono opportunities available (during office hours) to your more financially secure peers.
I’m specifically using the word 'class' and not a euphemism like ‘social mobility’ as it’s a conversation we tend to skirt around and need to have.
Do you think diversity and inclusion in the legal profession is as progressive as it could be?
To encourage organisations to take diversity seriously, it's often promoted as making good, sound, business sense.
And whilst that’s undoubtedly true, and I think has resulted in better diversity I’m not sure that it’s yet to translate into better inclusion.
Are we creating environments where these diverse colleagues can thrive and be successful and not have shed much of their uniqueness at the door?
Are we allowing that breadth of experience to feed into shaping workplace culture?
I am optimistic about the direction of travel in the profession, but we’re not there yet.