This year’s International Women’s Day was on 8th March 2022 and the theme was #breakthebias with the aim of celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality.
Whilst the week was filled with inspirational talks and words of wisdom from some phenomenal women, I also noticed across various platforms people posting and highlighting inequalities within many different organisations, sharing their experiences of what it is to be female in the workplace and an account on twitter even went viral for “outing” certain corporations and countering their IWD2022 social media campaigns by pointing out their gender pay gaps and lack of representation on their boards. Even within the legal profession, according to a survey conducted by the SRA in 2019 (the same year we celebrated 100 years of women in the law), women made up 52% of lawyers in firms but only 35% as Partners with women of colour making up only 2% of Equity Partners at law firms – not exactly a glowing representation of equality.
As a female Associate it is difficult to see those statistics and not feel concerned by the disparities at senior level yet looking around, I can see shining examples of change; the Law Society is currently governed by a female president I. Stephanie Boyce and female Vice President Lubna Shuja. In Birmingham last year Inez Brown was elected the first black female president of the Birmingham Law Society and this year Stephanie Perraton takes up the mantle as President. Other notable examples of inspirational women are Yetunde Dania head of Trowers & Hamlins Birmingham office and Chair of the new West Midlands Combined Authority Race Equalities Taskforce and Alex Bishop and Beth McArdle who were named co-heads of the Shoosmiths Birmingham office in 2020.
This year for IWD Birmingham Solicitors’ Group launched an online campaign designed to champion the emerging female talent we have here in Birmingham. We wanted to highlight those amongst our junior peers who are making their mark on our profession and rather than focus on established leaders we wanted to showcase our future leaders. Throughout the week we posted a series of spotlights on each individual and I asked them what the theme #breakthebias meant to them.
Introducing our selected female changemakers:
Alice Kinder – Associate at Anthony Collins, Deputy Vice President of Birmingham Law Society and a national Social Mobility Ambassador for The Law Society of England and Wales.
“I have always been a great advocate of equal opportunities and my passion in this area stems from my own experiences. Whilst a person’s background should never determine what they go on to achieve in life, the reality is that it does, and I have dedicated much of my career to breaking down that bias. I strongly believe that there is a place in the legal profession for everyone who is prepared to work hard and that we can all make an impact no matter our role or our level of seniority. I have been actively involved in equality and diversity initiatives both within my firm and in Birmingham Law Society, and have mentored a number of aspiring solicitors to give them the confidence to achieve their goals. I am also a Social Mobility Ambassador for The Law Society of England and Wales which has allowed me to promote the importance of social mobility and equal opportunities on a national scale. I am pleased at the progress we have made to become a more inclusive profession but there is still work to be done and we all have a responsibility to ensure that happens.”
Katie Rogers- Commercial Solicitor and founder of www.katasana.com – a health and wellbeing platform offering mind and movement practices.
“In breaking the bias, I help people to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing. I want others to know themselves so well that they can know when to push forward and when to take a break. I want to break the stigma around taking a break from work, asking for help, or setting boundaries to protect your health. Ultimately, we know that we perform best when we are happier, stronger and healthier, but often we can get so caught up in work that we lose sight of that (especially if you’re an inherent people pleaser with no boundaries)! I know just how much strength it takes to be vulnerable and to ask for help and so I want to inspire others to feel safe and supported to do the same if they need to.”
Sophie Warren – Trainee Solicitor at Shoosmiths, founder of legal blog @Legallyrun, National Representative at London Young Lawyers Group and Charity and CSR Officer for the Birmingham Trainee Solicitors’ Society.
“For me, breaking the bias means persevering and driving yourself to achieve your ambitions even though you may not fit into the ‘conventional’ category. I pride myself on having achieved this through not following a traditional route into obtaining a training contract but flourishing nonetheless. Breaking the bias is taking your successes from your unconventional journey and showcasing them and then leading as a role model for those following in your steps. I hope that I have showcased mine through my presence on social media and through my various mentoring roles. Finally, breaking the bias is showing that you are capable of achieving success in all aspects of life; even if you have been told you are not capable of this. In the future, I hope that women remain powerful role models to the younger generation of lawyers and show that it is possible to be successful in all walks of life; no matter the obstacles in your way.”
As I reflected on the week; speaking with our changemakers, thinking about my role models and reading the statistics and articles, the question that I was left with was: Are we seeing real change and can we truly “break the bias”? For me the answer is yes, it may be true that in the legal profession there is still work to be done, but it is clear to see that in Birmingham at least, change is coming, and a tide is turning.
By Marissa Jacquet, Commercial Property Associate and Co-Chair of the Birmingham Solicitors’ Group.