It was only a couple years ago in 2019 that the legal profession celebrated the hundredth anniversary of The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 that enabled women to enter law. Since then, significant progress has been made in both the financial and legal sectors, but I’m of the belief there is still more that could be done, especially with regards inclusivity and access. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made in a relatively short time, but also to refocus and commit to broadening access to the profession for all.
International Women’s Day resonates with me personally from the perspective of having become a parent. Before having my children I didn’t truly appreciate how challenging balancing a full-time job and motherhood could be. The constant guilt: never quite good enough at work, due to the distractions of home and then, never quite good enough at home, due to the distractions of work. I was maybe even guilty myself of exercising a certain unconscious bias towards parents when my focus was far more on the deliverable and less on the person. I have learnt a lot about effective leadership over the last few years and understand far better that in a knowledge economy where the competition is for the best minds, the most effective way to motivate and retain your talent is to value the whole person, which includes their personal situation. Understanding this in a meaningful way was driven by the transition from full time lawyer to full time mum and back again. When I returned to work after maternity leave, I was very fortunate to have an excellent line manager who valued me for the output I was able to deliver and was relaxed about the occasional outbursts!
Finding a good work/life balance is hard for many of us and the expectations of our organisations are high. But it is important that I work and have a career as it is not in my nature to be a full time stay at home mum, irrespective of how much I love my children. It also helps that I am lucky enough to be part of an organisation that is flexible, adapts to individual needs and trusts me to deliver. This doesn’t just apply to parents but also those with disabilities, carers and others too. Having a line manager who believes in you is key and I have been very fortunate to have found that.
Having been through the process of maternity leave and returning to the office, I try to offer advice and mentor women in my network as much as I can. I believe passionately in supporting more junior female staff in making the most of their talent and aiming for the corner office if that is what they want to achieve. Far too often I see very capable women believe they lack key skills or attributes to make a success of a challenge and I would love to see that change.
I have always worked in the energy business, and, traditionally, that has been a male dominated industry, despite this I have never felt my gender has been a disadvantage. I have been lucky enough to be mentored and encouraged by some more senior male/female colleagues, all of whom were candid about their own personal challenges or struggles. My advice to any graduates thinking about pursuing a career in law or specialising in a field which might traditionally have been perceived as male dominated is not to be put off. Pursue opportunities on their merits. I understand that sometimes it is difficult not to feel imposter syndrome, especially when you are the only woman in the room, but it is important to remember that you deserve to be there, and everyone else has their own version of imposter syndrome, it is what it is to be human and authentic.
I do believe you can have a career and a family life, although the priority each takes will shift as your career develops and your children grow up. It may feel like a constant balancing act where you can never be the best at both, but share your concerns with others in your position, you won’t be the only one suffering from the self-doubt. It is universal. For me, being fortunate enough to have a role I enjoy, working with smart people pursuing interesting opportunities, alongside caring for my boys has given me a far more rounded sense of purpose and fulfilment. If I can encourage other women (or men!) to pursue their goals, regardless of their personal situation, then I consider it a privilege to do so.
ARRACO General Counsel