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Women in law make a pledge for International Women’s Day

Business Life 11-03-2020

Top lawyers from City firm Charles Russell Speechlys make a pledge for International Women’s Day 2020

International Women’s Day celebrates achievements and raises awareness of bias with an aim to take action for equality.

This year’s theme #EachForEqual focusses on what we think and do individually, to collectively help us work towards creating a gender equal world. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to shine a light on our actions in the workplace and in the world.

At Charles Russell Speechlys, having a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture is critical to success. “Diversity in our people brings diversity of thought, ideas and innovation so that we develop as individuals and collectively as firm,” says Emma Bartlett, the firm’s Diversity Partner. “That in turn means that we can better understand our clients and provide them with the best solutions. It also helps us to attract the best people to join us, and stay with us.”

As part of the firm’s programme of events and activities, Charles Russell Speechlys asked everyone to make ‘pledge’ towards gender equality – no matter how big or small.

AWM speaks to three top lawyers from the firm to learn what inspires them about IWD.

Rupa Lakha, Partner

Construction lawyer who heads up the firm’s India Desk to assist British Asians and Indian nationals navigating the complex UK legal spectrum and cross border issues.

What drives you?
“A need to do things well. I do not believe in doing things half-heartedly so I am engaged and passionate about what I do. I have a natural instinct to keep going with things because I want there to be a positive outcome—whether that is achieving a goal or moving things forward. I try to see a result and I just have that motivation to keep going.”

Why is IWD important to you?
“I have been very fortunate; my education and upbringing has given me an abundance of opportunity. These, however, are far from available to all and even in today’s world, some are denied even the most basic of needs. I think it’s incumbent on those who have benefitted from and can appreciate those opportunities to facilitate for those who do not.

Life is very busy and many, like me, are fully driven to achieve results. It is easy to miss what is going on around you. IWD has allowed me to pause (momentarily!), reflect and think about my progression and what is next but also to see how far women have come, and also to drive that forward for others.”

What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
“I went through a period in my life where I had a number of key personal challenges, the biggest of which was the unexpected loss of my father. He was a pivotal driving force behind my ambition, work ethic, and values. I have overcome so many different challenges in the past decade where the answer has arisen as a result of keeping going. I have learnt to keep taking steps forward because you will get closer to doing what you think you could not do. And eventually you will see you went past a hurdle.”

My IWD2020 Pledge: “A lot of my drive came through the parenting I received. I have become a Partner in a City law firm and I have two children. My challenge is to balance that and ensure that that balance is made transparent at work. There has been a perception before about lack of transparency and visibility of female Partners who have families and whether or not that is attainable. My personal pledge is to offer a positive role model of a female Partner, to offer more visibility, more support, more transparency of what that role is, what it entails and how you can achieve and sustain it.”

Ruby Dalal, Senior Associate

Specialises in commercial property work with a specific focus on investment transactions and has been instrumental in setting up the India Group.

What drives you?
“Life is short and you never know what is around the corner and that drives me to make the most of each day. I also recognise how incredibly privileged I am in a world where there is so much sadness and for that I am very grateful. My parents were migrants and if it weren’t for their sacrifices, I would not have the life I have today. That motivates me to continue to build on their hard work to create the best future I can for my son.”

Why is IWD important to you?
“There are organisations and sectors both within and outside the legal industry where sadly there is not such a happy story. There is still a lot of work to be done globally to achieve equality between men and women and IWD is an important platform to try and help raise awareness. As part of my role at Charles Russell Speechlys, and through platforms like AWM, I have the opportunity to raise awareness and effect change where change is needed.”

Words of advice for your 16-year-old self:
“At 16 I was taking my GCSEs at my local school in Slough. If someone had told me then that 20 years later I would be a Senior Associate at a top City law firm, I would not have believed them. So the advice I would give is to believe in yourself, “chase the rainbow” and not to be scared to go after all the things you want. Travel as much as possible, meet lots of different people to get different perspectives and open your horizons along your journey. Take every opportunity, do your best and try to have fun along the journey because time really does go faster than you think.”

My IWD2020 Pledge: “To challenge our leaders to ensure that men and women are treated equally. This has to be the fundamental principle on which the world should operate. We should not be defined by our gender, but by our hard work, our innovative ideas, and what we bring to the table as individuals – both inside and outside of the workplace. I do acknowledge that for a lot of women this is currently not the case, so it’s a collective responsibility for us all to seek to address this.”

Sangna Chauhan, Partner

Looks after the tax and succession needs for individual clients, traditionally called “private client”.

What drives you?
“Intellectual curiosity. I absolutely love to find out how things work and why and how things fit together. I am so lucky to have found a career where that is essentially what I spend my days doing: the law changes so regularly and clients’ needs are so diverse that I am constantly looking for new solutions.”

What does IWD mean to you?
“Even though we have made (imperfect) progress in the UK in terms of gender equality, IWD reminds me of the millions of women in other countries who still do not have a voice or respect, or even freedom. In too many places women are denied an education, let alone a chance to work. It is appalling that, instead of IWD being a day to mark progress and unity, we are still seeing repression and violence against women. So for me, IWD is a time to recognise how much more needs to be done for women worldwide.”

Words of advice for women in business?
“Don’t be crippled by your own self doubt! In many industries, the framework for promotion often favours those who are comfortable putting themselves forward. Too often, I see people hesitate and hold themselves back. It may simply be a case of confirmation bias, but I genuinely believe that women feel this more than men. For whatever reason, women seem to want to be over-prepared and over-qualified before progressing, and they want to know that they can move forward without compromising their various other duties and responsibilities. But that often means that women are losing out on opportunities. There is no reason for this because a woman’s instincts and skills are just as valid as that of any man. So maybe we have two solutions: empower women to self-promote; and change processes in the workplace to accommodate different working styles.”

My IWD2020 Pledge: To call out those everyday, casual or even ignorant acts that make people feel “other” or “lesser”.

Photos by Kam Parmar for Asian Wealth

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