As around the world people celebrate International Women’s Day, we virtually sat down with a few of our colleagues to talk about the steps that lead them to where they are today and what advice they would give to someone considering their career right now.
What made you want to join this industry?
[Jacky F] I worked in various types of industries before joining Gepps as most companies require management accountants. I had not worked for a firm of solicitors before but 25 years later I am still here!!
[Alex D] I was the first person in my family to go to university and I chose law because it was a strong academic subject that I felt would open lots of doors. I then had the opportunity of carrying out some work experience at Gepps and absolutely loved it. I loved the diverse range of work that I dealt with and liked dealing with the challenges that our clients gave us. From that I decided to carry on with my studies and complete the post-graduate diploma in Law. I then went back to Gepps under a training contract and I’ve been here ever since!
[Charlotte S] I never made a conscious decision that I wanted to be a solicitor from the outset. It was a combination of decisions, each stage of my life led me to this point. When I choose my A-levels I did a combination of maths, physics and law and then when it came to choosing a degree I went to multiple open days and ended up choosing law. After I graduated, I started to apply for jobs, and knowing I was quite an empathetic person, I didn’t really want to do anything too personal or emotional so property was a good option, in particular, commercial property. I found Gepps and sent them my CV even though they weren’t hiring, they invited me in for in for an interview and I then joined the commercial team.
[Lisa C] I took law as an A-level and really enjoyed it, so I went onto read it at university knowing that it even if I didn’t end up being a solicitor, it would be a good starting point for many other careers. I believe it’s really important to study a subject that you enjoy and interests you. After finishing university, I still wasn’t sure law was for me and ended up working in marketing but strangely part of my role involved me helping to create the marketing materials for a new trust corporation and that reignited my interest in law. So next step was my LPC and the rest, as they say, is history.
[Karen M] I came back from travelling round Europe when I was 20 and happened to walk past the job centre. I saw there was a job for a legal secretary for a local firm of solicitors and that’s how I’m here now!
What advice would you give your younger self?
[Bakshi D] Think about your career and make sure what you’re doing is what you want to do, achieve whatever you’ve set your mind to! Go for it and do it!
[Lisa C] Have more faith in your own abilities and trust your instincts.
[Rachel W] Believe in yourself. I started as a secretary, some 30 years ago, when IT was in its infancy. I had a knack for resolving problems and finding ways to push the software I was given to automate things to make life easier but was often told to stop “tinkering” so I did. For years, I worked in various legal departments from Commercial to Family, Litigation, Property and Private Client as a secretary but always got bored and moved on. It was only when I started working for a law firm who were taking their first steps to use a case management system that I got the chance to properly “tinker” and now I am an IT Manager.
Have you faced any challenges within your career?
[Rachel W] IT has historically been very much a man’s world so being a woman holding a senior position in the industry can be hard. When attending conventions or trade shows, some sales people struggle with the fact that I am the one with the ‘buying power’ and at times have a tendency to talk down to you which can be off putting even now. When I first started properly working in IT, I was conscious of being at times overlooked in favour of a male colleague when staff members had problems or wanted advice. Whilst times are slowly changing for the better, women are not always considered technical or hands on. Unfortunately, this still happens now. As a woman in my late 40s who has a child who often needs me (although not as much these days) some employers might think I am not fully invested in my career and they would often opt for a male over a female when recruiting. Some employers would consider people like myself to be too old to be a young go getter in the ever changing IT world, too old to keep up with those changes, yet too young to retire. How wrong they are…
[Susan L] I have worked in male dominated environments for most of my career, but that has never been an issue for me, because in my view if you can hold your own in terms of personality, knowledge and commitment then gender doesn’t tend to make a blind bit of difference to your ability to succeed. There have of course been times when I’ve had to challenge unpalatable attitudes, but by doing that, I’ve been able to take another small step forward in changing those attitudes.
[Karen M] When I worked for the regulator, we used to have to go into law practice’s to close them down if they were doing something that wasn’t in line with the code of conduct. Sometimes you had to be quite detached from peoples feelings, especially older people who thought ‘what’s this youngster doing, what does she know about rules and regulations’, just be quite self confident.
[Bakshi D] There were a lot of challenges, it wasn’t the typical go to university, do a degree and then get a job for me, I was always working. Sometimes when you start at a firm and then qualify there, people can sometimes still see you as the role that you started off in, it can take time to build trust.
[Lisa C] Finding the right firm was a challenge for me. After qualifying I worked for a law firm near Bath and then when I relocated to Essex I secured a job as a solicitor but in the private tax department at PWC. This enabled me to develop my tax knowledge and see how a different professional firm operated, but I missed the day to day client interaction that you get as a private client lawyer and so moved back to a law firm. I have never regretted taking the time to find the right firm and for me that is one that has encouraged me to grow and develop as an individual and have a say in how the firm evolves.
[Jacky F] Being made redundant in my 20’s because the company I was working for went into liquidation was quite a knock to my self esteem but turned out to be a good thing in the long run. The other challenge was when my boss retired and I was left to get on with everything on my own, having never done half of the things!!
[Alex D] Juggling a career in law with raising two children that involved being a partner and managing a medium sized practice, whilst working part time and changing practice areas three times!
[Charlotte S] Going into first lockdown last March. I was sharing an office with a colleague who had been doing commercial property as a solicitor for a number of years, so we talked a lot about what we were doing and asked each other quick questions, and then she left at the beginning of March. I was apprehensive at first as I lost that informal support and then went to working from home by myself. It took a good while to get used too, but it made me become more confident in my own views and what I thought.
What do you think is the biggest issue today facing women of your age?
[Rachel W] Guilt. Being a working mum can still be frowned upon especially when networking in the playground as you are made to feel like you are not giving your child the best time in life due to your own selfishness. It is hard juggling a busy demanding role like that of IT Manager as well as running a house, and being a mum. You always feel like you are letting someone down and not being on top of things. You become your own worst critic. You feel guilty that you are letting your employer down if you have to leave to collect a sick child, guilty for not being able to attend school functions or create that fabulous book day character costume because you have a deadline to meet. Guilty your house isn’t immaculate and that you don’t always get to cook a meal every day because you are too busy, home late, struggling to help with homework etc.
[Jacky F] Getting ready for retirement and having the guts to go for it!! Even though I could retire today if I wanted to, it is taking the final step to walk away from your job etc.
[Alex D] It’s not just unique to women, it’s to young people who are wanting to develop a career, it’s just so competitive. I think it’s harder to get the opportunities in the first place regardless of gender. I believe that the positive outcome of the Covid pandemic is that employers have realised their staff can work effectively without always being in the office and they will operate differently on a permanent basis. So for women who want a career and a family, I think there will be more opportunities because employers will be much more willing to work flexibly.
[Charlotte S] In life, social media. You are bombarded with information about what you should be eating, what you shouldn’t be eating, what types of exercises are best for you, you should care what you look like, that you should care less about what you look like, it can be quite overwhelming to get your head around what you should be doing. There is a lot of conflicting information about a lot of conflicting subjects. In my job, being a young female still has challenges, I do remember one experience from when I was a trainee, and this is the only experience I can think of, but I was at a conference with council, with the tax barrister and the client’s accountants. I was perhaps the youngest in the room by roughly 15 years and there were a bundle of documents that had been prepared that we were all looking through. The only time Council actually looked at me was when he was explaining that something within the bundle had been done wrong and it was actually the accountants in the room that had prepared them, but because I was the young girl in the room it was assumed it was me.
[Lisa C] Juggling being a working parent whilst working full-time. The world has got faster and sometimes it feels like everyone, not just working parents, is on a treadmill just trying to keep up and keep all the plates spinning. I believe we all need to be kinder to ourselves and more forgiving and take the time to slow the treadmill down a little
What is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about their careers
[Bakshi D] It’s never too late so believe in yourself. I didn’t think I would ever be an equity partner, having lost my parents young, two children, not the education that I would have wanted and also marrying young, I didn’t think it would have been on the cards for me. In 24 years I’ve gone from being a secretary to being a head of department / equity partner, so don’t doubt yourself. If you work hard then it will pay off and you will achieve your goals.
[Karen M] Don’t worry about people’s perception of you, don’t change the way you do things or the way you think things should be done because of your peers and what their opinions are, just do what you think is right for yourself and the role assigned to you within the workplace.
[Susan L] I would say that all women should do exactly what they want to do for whatever reason they want to do it, and it doesn’t matter about age or how difficult it might be, because if you want it enough you will make it happen. It’s never too early or too late to start a new career, I’m pretty much living proof of that, and quite frankly, regret is pants.
[Lisa C] Keep your options open and don’t feel like you can only make one career choice for life. The skills you develop in one career are very likely to be useful in a second and having different experiences to those around means you bring something unique to the table
[Alex D] Do something you enjoy; you do it for a long time and success requires hard work and dedication so do something that you’re happy to get out of bed and do every day.