Takeaways from the Women in Law Summit…
10 June 2019 by Ellen Petersen
Women in Law. Working towards a diverse, inclusive workplace and identifying the steps needed to achieve true gender equality; as well as creating real opportunities in an action-orientated and collaborative way within the profession.
Ellen Petersen, Partner, attended the Women in Law Summit 2019. Although the conference was titled ‘Women in Law’, the debates & insights were relevant to challenges facing all professions & working environments.
The Women in Law Summit 2019 took place at the Kensington Olympia on 17th May and very enlightening it was too.
There were some inspirational speakers, notably Gina Miller (who successfully challenged the UK Government over its authority to implement Brexit, winning in both the High Court and Supreme Court), who gave an emotional keynote speech about her personal life journey and Kizzy Augustin (partner at Russell-Cooke), who was the morning plenary speaker and de-facto “host” of the day.
Kizzy spoke so brilliantly about the old school legal partnership model and how this constricts growth. Her view & call to action was that in order to retain talent, we need to challenge traditional ways of thinking. That means looking closer at and bringing about flexible working to give people what they want at work. This includes agile working and “nomadic” IT solutions, where people have the tools to become better managers of time. The crux is to act responsibly and respectfully in diverse recruitment and to encourage transparency and honesty about what the business & colleagues want.
Kizzy had a further message about the ripple effect of our positive actions; we need to inspire our colleagues and encourage energy and different views. This can only have a positive outcome with reference particularly to the retention of all people with talent. Several sessions during the day discussed talent retention with particular focus on how we can improve the working environment; given that the standard 9-5 doesn’t suit most people these days. We were asked to find innovative ways to work, including flexible and remote working because working from home is attractive to all. It is not just for those with children or others to care for (which can often be more productive without the need to factor in hours for a daily commute); as well as to look at how we can work smarter with tech.
Presentations and Q&A Sessions
The Summit featured various presentations and Q&A sessions including a session on the future of law firms and the need to understand the architecture around legal tech. This goes to the heart of agile working solutions. Tech enables flexibility and smarter working; but we need to foster greater tech skills to build a stronger ‘brand’ and network; both as law firms and as individuals. Tech skills allow us to differentiate ourselves from competitors & make us effective, confident and communicative lawyers with innovative & entrepreneurial skills.
A session, which featured Helen Libson (Global Community Manager for Peerpoint) and Alexandra Gladwell (Senior Commercial Litigation Lawyer and Peerpoint Consultant) brought about a really interesting observation that work life balance is the most important factor for everyone. This is not just about part time work. The definition of this work-life balance is not clear cut and includes: consultancy; using legal skills in interesting ways; tech-savvy solutions; working outside the office; working outside non-standard office hours; and, remote working. It appears that the definition of success and ambition has changed. Good quality legal talent will want to remain with a firm, but only if life expectations are met. We are changing from the “lean in” culture and we need to lean out. These are very exciting and interesting times now in law, after a prolonged period of non-material change.
The presentation and Q&A on Intersectionality and the law gave the message that stereotypes can hamper breakthrough into a leadership role and especially that the success of women now needs to produce allies to all intersection – “Don’t just invite to the party – ask to dance”.
The Intersectionality session discussed the fact that law firms need to plan well and do more to attract (for example) disabled talent into private practice as role-models and to accommodate all disability and mental health and well-being. Yasmin Sheikh said that we need to look at what people can do; as opposed to what people can’t do. It is also important to get people more comfortable with those with disability / mental health conditions in the workplace. The issue is to build a better, more inclusive workplace to enable people to thrive. There is a reputational risk if law firms don’t make these changes.
The well-being of junior lawyers was not forgotten, with practical advice on the issue of imposter syndrome and resilience. The message being that to have a full and positive career one must foster different versions of self. The more narrowly we define ourselves, the more open we are to problems. For example, a stressful working life must feature something outside work to avoid burnout. New learning experiences allows one to build confidence and resilience and also helps with stress and managing time pressures.
The session on mentoring was enlightening and featured discussion on traditional, peer and group mentoring; with the latter focussing on knowledge sharing. Many tips were shared about the mentoring experience, both for mentor and mentee, including the need to listen to each other with trust and respect and with an open mind, in order to provide constructive and honest feedback. The ideal is to make valuable and positive impact and to celebrate achievement.
The day was a dizzy round of intelligent and focussed debate on the issues that matter in any working environment. It was not just for women (despite the title!) and not just in law firms.
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