I joined the legal profession in the 1980s at a time when women were in the minority, and rare creatures indeed, in what was then a broadly male-dominated corporate sector.
The corporate world then was one that embraced an extremely macho culture. That said, I was also extremely lucky at the time to work for a firm that was progressive enough to recognise effort, commitment and ability as being the qualities that really matter.
My professional experiences since those formative years were not all necessarily as positive – one of the more memorable exchanges came from a senior partner of a rival firm, who asked me on hearing I had been made a partner before I was 30: “Are you barren?”
Fortunately, we have moved on considerably from those times. The women who rose through the ranks and succeeded in business have also been instrumental in driving equality initiatives, such as agile and flexible working, and bringing a different perspective to boardroom tables, often with the support and encouragement of male colleagues. This has served significantly to dilute the macho culture that powered business when I started.
Throughout my career, I have been extremely fortunate to be mentored and, most importantly, sponsored, by a number of talented individuals – many of whom are men.
We are all now, as business people, more mindful of what we do and say, and the impact that has on those we work with.
While there is still some way to go, I believe that we can continue to make a difference. In my experience, three qualities are needed to progress that balance.
- Optimism – things will get better. They have done so consistently during my working lifetime and will continue to do so.
- Persistence – to make that change happen and speed up the pace, we have to set the agenda and drive it.
- Enthusiasm – we cannot simply wait for change to happen. We need to make that happen and engage others around us in supporting that change.
In the words of Michelle Obama: “Don't ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn't.”