Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021: The Legal View

By Cheri Burns | March 8th 2021
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Today [March 8] is International Women’s Day – a day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world.

To mark it, this week, we will be sharing the stories and experiences of leading women across law, financial services and RegTech, telling, in their words, what it is like to be a female working in their industry.

To gain insight from the legal industry, we spoke to Amy Bell, Encompass industry advisor and co-founder of Teal Compliance, and Suzie Ogilvie, who is Global Head of Financial Crime and Sanctions at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. Here, they reflect on their careers, how they have succeeded, and offer advice to young women considering their own paths.

Tell us a bit about you…

Amy Bell: I am a mum, a solicitor, and an entrepreneur. I’m 45, married (eventually) to my childhood sweetheart and we have two girls. I have two stepchildren, and my stepdaughter has two girls. My husband and I try to be active, we are both marathon runners, but at the moment I’m doing lots of virtual challenges on my spin bike. In my own quiet time, I like to sew cross stitch, and listen to non-fiction.

I am the co-founder of Teal Compliance, a consultancy which assists professional services businesses with the rules that they have to follow, and Teal Legal, a LawTech company building solutions to improve legal processes. At the moment, we are working in the conveyancing sector, bringing solutions to reduce the time it takes to do the legal work.

Suzie Ogilvie: I am the Global Head of Financial Crime and Sanctions at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, an international law firm. I have also been a member of the Money Laundering Task Force of the Law Society of England and Wales, and the UK delegate to the Money Laundering Committee of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, for a number of years. All of this leads to a fairly interesting mix of work, ranging from participating in strategic discussions on the firm’s reputational risk appetite to discussing policy matters with government agencies.

Life outside of work is pretty different – sport has played quite a significant part in my life, but more recently gardening has been added (reluctantly) to my list of pastimes.

Why did you choose to work in the industry?

A: I was attracted to the law because it is all about what is fair. From a young age, I have been fanatical about the notion of fairness.

S: When I was younger, I wanted to be a fighter pilot (we lived near an RAF base) but, at that time, I was told that ejector seats were not designed for women. I also toyed with the idea of becoming a chemical engineer but, somewhere along the line, chose to study law. I’m not sure, even then, I really intended to become a lawyer – it just happened.

The theme for this year’s IWD is ‘choose to challenge’ – what would you do to improve opportunities for women, and equality across the board?

A: I suppose I left private practice because things didn’t seem as fair as they could be. I started my own business with the sole purpose of changing the way people see compliance.

Using that opportunity, we have been able to build a business that is fair to everyone who works in it and provides the flexibility women, and men, want. More than half of our team work part-time, and flexibly to fit in with their own lifestyles, and we have equal and full transparency on pay scales.

S: I I have recently become a mentor in the 30% Club, a global campaign taking action to increase gender diversity at board and senior management levels. After a number of years in the workplace, women often start to feel the lack of mentoring that might take them to the next level, so such campaigns seek to address these issues.

In your industry and role, do you feel there is a positive gender balance?

A: I have been pleased to see that, over the years, glass ceilings have been broken but there are still more than a few women solicitors who have told me they have felt they have had to choose having children over progressing as quickly in their careers as their male counterparts. I think the significant progress that has been made in shared maternity/paternity leave and flexible working are impacting all the time. I dream of a day when no woman in the law feels she has to make a choice for the sake of her career.

S: The gender balance is fairly evenly split in the legal profession until you reach Partner level, where representation of women is dramatically reduced. The position is gradually changing, however, and there is a certain amount of excitement in my organisation about the fact that we have appointed our first female Senior Partner.

Have you faced any hurdles because of your gender?

A: That is an interesting question. I entered the law expecting that pursuing partnership with kids would be tricky to do. From my brief exposure to the law as a work experience student, I decided that I would move away from fee earning when I wanted to have children – so I did just that. That’s when I started working in compliance and learning and development, and when my kids were babies I was able to get to the nursery to pick them up and put them to bed later. Would I have taken a different path if I were a man? Possibly.

By the time my second daughter was born I was a consultant for law firms, and that was a whole different experience. I was often late home, early away, and missed most weekday bed times. It was tough. ‘mum guilt’ was certainly something I felt – crying silently on a delayed train, knowing they’ll be asleep by the time I get home – again.

Four years ago, my husband and I started our business on the proviso he would leave his full-time role so at least one of us would be around more. You hear ‘house husband’ bandied about, but he’s not. He’s a Finance Director now, but also does the school run, the cooking, the shopping, and helps with homework. I am pleased my girls know that it is not a given that the female parent is expected to be solely responsible for childcare, and also that women can start businesses and be the boss!

S: Yes, but it only made me want to fight harder.

How can we make work environments more inclusive?

A: I ask my team what they need. During the last year, being flexible has been more important than ever. We work in an output focused way. We do ask everyone who is working on a particular day to try to make the daily huddle at 9.30am, and most days, at the moment, that means Team Teal’s children make an appearance!

I don’t think being inclusive is just about accommodating bringing up children. For me, it is about facilitating people reaching their potential, asking them what they want their world to be like, and supporting them to achieve it.

S: It is important not to have a one-dimensional view of talent and recognise that a broad range of leadership styles is desirable. Today, there is more acceptance than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table.

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

A: Be honest and be brave. Law is a highly competitive industry. It takes hard graft to get noticed, to get that training contract, but do keep asking yourself, ‘is this what I want?’ and be honest with yourself. We will be seeking a shift in every industry as a result of COVID-19 – barriers have been broken down. I, for one, am planning to move to Spain in the next two years. I’ve been honest with myself – I don’t want to wait until retirement to live where I want to, and I don’t need to, so that is it, decision made.

S: Believe in yourself and what you can achieve.

Who do you see as a role model within the industry?

A: Women who are brave and honest, and unapologetically themselves. Alice Stephenson really got me thinking about Spain when she made the decision to move to Amsterdam to run her employment law business. And much closer to home, my co-founder, Sally Holdway, who is a champion of asking “what if?” and has taught me a lot about working to live, and not the other way around.

S: I find the stories and struggles of the first generation of female partners in the large firms inspiring, but I think role models are personal to each individual – I don’t think you can simply look to gender as an influencing factor but also to different behavioural qualities that resonate at a personal level – some may find that they identify with different attributes in different people.

What does IWD mean to you?

A: It means sisterhood. I once lived in a house with 10 girls and it was a place where jealous, catty comments, and dirty looks were common. It made me very sad. I hope it was just because of immaturity, but I do see from time to time. I say celebrate sisterhood. Share that post, offer the support, take the time to congratulate your fellow women.

S: It is great to read all of the inspirational stories, but it is also a time for reflection. We mustn’t forget that in some parts of the world, women still have limited freedoms and opportunities, and that they are very far off achieving any form of equality.

Author: Cheri Burns
LinkedIn Profile | Cheri Burns

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