It's Different for Girls
So why am I quoting another 1970s' pop song? And what has it got to do with a corporate law firm?
The Law Society has recently reported on Women in Leadership in Law and also on a roundtable men's discussion called 'Male Champions for Change'. We welcome both of these reports but want to talk about how we at PDT have been addressing some of the issues discussed, and what we are doing to ensure that we continue to challenge and champion these issues going forward.
In the last three years we have set up a number of forums to help define and provide what we have called the PDT Experience and the culture of the firm.
One of these forums was born out of the startlingly obvious fact that when it comes to marketing and business development in law firms, it's different for girls. Too much focus is placed on activities which are male orientated and by their very nature restrict and limit women's involvement and engagement. Prime target number one in this has to be golf. For women to be advised to take up golf as a way of developing their marketing and business development reflects what the Law Society reports identify as the unconscious bias that women face.
Identifying this is easy. Doing something about it is more difficult. The obvious answer to us was firstly to acknowledge this and then set up a women-only marketing group to meet to discuss some of the challenges facing women as they look to develop their career in the law.
So, how has it gone? Here it's only right that Holly Goacher, who has been instrumental in implementing some of these ideas, takes up the story.
"I was thrilled when I got the green light to start a forum for the women fee earners in the firm, and I sent the initial email inviting everyone to attend the first meeting feeling excited that this was the start of something great. Within seconds of pressing the send button the excitement disappeared and was replaced with anxiety. What if no one showed up? What if we had nothing to say to each other? What if the recipients of the email rolled their eyes, labelled me with the 'F' word and gave me a wide berth from here on? Of course I felt like that - this is one of the ways women hold themselves back. We put ourselves down, having been conditioned that being self-deprecating makes us more likeable and relatable. We tell ourselves all the reasons why we can't do something, why it won't be a success, instead of feeling proud and boasting about all the reasons we can do it. This is one of the main points that came out of our discussions at that very first meeting. The attendees acknowledged feeling like this.
We decided that we had to take responsibility, to take action, to call out behaviours that have a negative impact in the workplace. So that's what we agreed to do, both individually and through the support network we have created between us.
Self-doubt is just one example of the ways in which women at our meetings reported feeling held back. Mothers experienced not being asked to networking events out of hours, or being asked to go and then feeling punished when they couldn't accept because of lack of alternative childcare. Stories were told of clients and contacts thinking women were present at a meeting to take notes, or automatically asking the female members of a meeting to get their coffee, comments being made about the way they look and how much they're drinking at events. These things will most likely incite a response in each reader of 'no way does that happen', or 'not in this day and age', or 'I would never behave like that'. But perhaps the better response is to be committed to ensure that this does not happen, and to support and encourage and mentor those around them. This obviously doesn't apply just to women - we all need to acknowledge what holds us and others back and do all we can to remove those barriers. We hope that our meetings are doing just that."
What has been clear as the firm works to ensure that women can take a leading role in marketing the firm is that:
- Talking about this is good but not enough
- Gender bias is real, it happens, and we need to do something about it
- In endorsing the highlights of the Law Society report we need to encourage participation by both men and women in supporting and promoting women in facing the gender bias and challenges
At PDT we are committed to giving everyone the opportunity to succeed through empowerment, skill development and confidence building. We can all be and should be the best we can be. We are doing something. Yes, as the 1970s' pop song says 'it's different for girls' - but it shouldn't be.
James Clewlow - Managing Partner PDT Solicitors