IFLR Women in Business Law 2016

June 16, 2016 - Waldorf Hilton, London


Key Takeaways:

Mentoring, sponsorship and coaching

  • It’s never too early to have a mentor – everyone should have at least one, but preferably a number of mentors. They can give you different things; think of it as your own personal boardroom
  • A sponsor will speak up for you behind closed doors, and will probably mentor you at the same time to ensure they’re backing a winner. A sponsor becomes increasingly important as you become more senior; when your fit in organisation comes into sharper focus
  • An analogy: a mentor is your school teacher; a coach is your afternoon tutor; a sponsor is a parent – to be your advocate no matter what
  • They need to be credible and reliable, but most important is the personal connection – that you work well together, and help your sponsor in return. It’s a two way street
  • In organisations like law firms often the focus is on partners and clients, but actually decisions are made across the board – so get visibility to as wide a range of people as possible
  • Beware the negative sponsor; a person you may have irritated who speaks down about you behind closed doors. Be especially careful of who you trample over on your way to the top
  • Don’t just look up – look across and down too. Be good at your job, be competent and reliable and fundamentally, be a nice person.

Engaging men in women’s initiatives

  • Law firms should stop seeing gender diversity as a competitive issue, and instead a wider problem for the profession
  • It’s important because gender isn’t an issue of helping or fixing women, but helping the organisation. So it men have to be involved for anything to change
  • Men are often afraid of saying the wrong thing and it’s important to give them the confidence to do so. A fear of using the wrong word: ‘there's a diversity vocabulary that I don’t know’
  • But most women would prefer men said the wrong thing than nothing at all
  • Teaching older generations of men – who became leaders without having to be inclusive leaders – to consider diversity in the workforce is a struggle
  • It’s important to engage men to not just support, but to take part in meetings and events and bring a man’s perspective to the issues – it’s not just how women perceive it, but how men do too
  • It could be helpful to get clients involved: ‘one sure way to get men in the room is when a client is there – cynical, but true’
  • Most men intellectually understand why it’s important, but struggle to get involved
  • Millennials have in general experienced far less gender inequality so many can think they don’t have a problem. But a women’s network doesn’t have to be just about solving problems – it’s never too early or late to have mentoring programme.

The role of leadership in negotiating the path to partnership or the board

  • Role models are important and it’s often easier if you can see a role model who is like you – it’s something more tangible to aspire to, though you still have to forge your own path
  • Now that everyone wants a work-life balance you have to ask if you can eventually achieve that
  • Leadership is somewhat trial and error – you figure out your style as you grow in your career
  • Being able to work for a number of different people helps in terms of leadership as one can see how different people work. A variety of skillsets is helpful and if one is similar to yours you can learn from that – so be wary of sitting in the same seat for two years
  • But remember that no one in a law firm or a bank is going to ask you to do something they ultimately don’t think you’re capable of doing. It would only be a bad reflection on them
  • Informal or formal mentoring works. For reserved personalities more formal mentoring can work better, as some may lack the confidence to strike up relationships at earlier stages
  • And it can be as helpful for the mentor as it is for the mentee. If your mentee is singing your praises, that helps to build your personal brand
  • Know your audience. There will be different people everywhere; what works for one client won’t work for another. Tailor your skills to those clients. It comes with confidence too – knowing when you are within your rights to speak up
  • The more diverse a board or team is will generally lead to better results. Targets are more measurable.

Road to general counsel

  • Always act up – so that when you are promoted, others in your organisation thought you already held that position
  • Have the confidence to ask for flexibility; you’re not going to get fired for asking
  • Choose your partner wisely and invest in the best childcare you can afford. Be ruthlessly organised and accept there are times your children need you more than others
  • It’s ok if networking isn’t your strong suit. Build an internal network too, of people who will put in a good word for you
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone; public speaking engagements shouldn’t be turned down
  • If stakeholder management is a problem draw a stakeholder map, and ask ‘what do you want the answer to be?’ – then you can best manage their expectations
  • Leadership isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok.







Sponsored by:



 Shearman & Sterling


 White & Case





Supporting Organisations:






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