International Women’s Day at Simpson Millar

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When I saw that it was International Women’s Day, I knew that I needed to speak to some of the women at Simpson Millar to find out what they think of a day to celebrate women. When you work at a law firm, the focus is rightly on all the Solicitors and Lawyers who work there but there are many other women who play an important part in the success of Simpson Millar.

So I approached a range of people in the firm and asked them a few questions about what International Women’s Day means to them.

I should also add that as a law firm regulated by the SRA, we’re required to publish equality and diversity data on our website. So, I took a quick look at the female to male split in the firm and the stats read well.

Simpson Millar has a higher ratio of women to men in the firm, with good representation at senior level. There are more female partners than male and our Senior Management Team is made up of nearly 40% women.

I’m proud to work in such a diverse and forward thinking firm, that enables all women to achieve their goals, whatever they are.

Thank you to Melanie Burden, Head of Serious Injury Claims, Sarah Waddell, Finance Controller, Victoria Pogge von Strandmann, Public Law Partner and Lauren Hale, HR Business Partner for taking the time out of their day to give me some insight.

I asked ‘What does IWD2020 mean to you?’ and I got some fascinating answers.

Sarah felt it was about celebrating women’s successes in levelling the playing field, but recognising there is still work to do in making sure everyone is treated equally.

Lauren thought it’s about drawing attention to the inequalities in society and having conversations about how we can address them. Whilst there has been progress, there’s a long way to go and Lauren says it’s everyone’s responsibility to be involved in this change every day. After all, we’re stronger together.

Victoria expressed that it was a day of celebration and protest – celebration of the achievements of so many strong women doing amazing and important work across the globe and our progress in equality, but protest against discrimination, gender based violence and other human rights violations women and girls face because of their gender.

Melanie said that it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of equality for women and the basic right of everyone to participate in an equal world, whilst also not detracting from recognising the rights of people who are gender neutral, gender fluid and transgender.

Personally, I had to give this question some thought. For me, it’s about making sure that all women and girls everywhere know that anything is possible and that they must keep fighting for what they want and for the rights of females to be equals.

I went on to ask them about what women’s themes impact them most at work or at home.

Melanie is a full time working mum and juggling her work / life balance was probably the biggest challenge. She commented about how fortunate she was that Simpson Millar embrace flexible working, and that she continues to be supported and encouraged at work.

Sarah made some excellent points about women ‘making up the numbers’ and that positive discrimination is possibly the not the right way forward. Men and women should be held to the same standards and applauded for the same achievements. Sarah also mentioned that even in 2020, it sometimes feel that there is surprise at a women who is willing to speak her mind, but that men are encouraged to speak freely.

Victoria is a partner and working mum with two small sons. She works part time and is happy to work for a law firm that supports working from home and part time working. As a department, she supports all of her staff, male and female, to have that good work life balance you get from flexible working. Victoria did recognise the challenges of working as a partner in a law firm with two small children and the very real lack of sleep as a result.

Finally, I asked them tell me about what more we can do in relation to women’s right.

Sarah felt strongly that gender should simply be taken out of the conversation and to just take everyone for who they are and the abilities and experiences they bring to the table. Women shouldn’t be promoted hit quotas but because they’ve earned it.  She rightly flagged the need to raise the next generation to value each other’s contributions but to also have the confidence to challenge the issues that still need to be addressed.

Melanie came at it from a work perspective. She thinks that all employers should support flexible working patterns and increase the ratio of female representation in senior management roles and at board level.

Victoria talked about the very real gender stereotypes that are alive and well, starting from a very young age. She thinks that equality should start from the ground up. Children’s toys, books and clothes create enormous gender bias. She quoted research by the Observer in 2018 that showed male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books and are given far more speaking parts than females. Males are typically embodied as powerful, wild and potentially dangerous beasts such as dragons, bears and tigers, where females tended to be represented by smaller more vulnerable creatures such as birds, cats and insects. The same applies to children’s television, including the BBC. Victoria points out that from the very beginning of their lives, girls are sent constant overt and covert messages which teach them to believe that they are not equal and that they have a different role to play in society and that needs to change. She thinks we should create gender equality among children if we want it for adults.

Lauren thinks that we need to challenge bias and stereotypes, which people often shy away from because they feel too uncomfortable. She thinks it’s time for us all to take a stand and take pride in our actions and in knowing that we can combat the challenges and improve female’s rights and equality. She also advocates using social media to network and influence and use this powerful tool positively to influence and celebrate achievement.

What’s clear is that much has been achieved, but we still have a long road ahead. But if everyone joins together, we can tackle inequality more powerfully together.

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