We need to provide a genuine equal opportunity to succeed for all women. This may not be earth-shatteringly original, but everything else flows from it. Giving women a chance, no matter what their circumstances, and then creating the environment to progress. Having removed barriers that might limit their chances to succeed and after providing every encouragement, it is then up to them. This is not about paying lip service to the issue and not simply generating ‘initiatives’ for the annual report, but genuine chances to progress. Women may be the majority amongst solicitors, but less than a third are currently partners.
What changed my life has been access to education and being able to qualify as a solicitor in the UK, despite leaving school with few qualifications. My first employer was enlightened enough to allow me to study on day release and that was the kick-start I needed to begin along my career path. My next firm, having moved to London, was not so illuminated and I had to study at night school until I completed my LPC, which is difficult for anyone.
Looking at Carpenters, the reason we have such a high proportion of women is down to providing work flexibility early on and offering further education for all staff. We have many women taking that offer up and subsequently progressing in their careers. Training is essential, but on its own, it can place a ceiling on advancement. Education, flexibility and an open mind to finding the ‘best person’ for the job has led to us having more than 50% women in executive positions and a female CEO. This is not tokenism or positive discrimination but choosing the best person and then giving them the tools to progress. It works, and it pays off through their contribution to the firm and their loyalty.
2018 was a special year for us at Carpenters, because Beryl who joined us at 62 as a secretary, following her life as a missionary, retired at 80. Beryl is what we are about. We took a chance on her when we were small and could ill-afford to take risks with recruitment. She simply wanted the opportunity to demonstrate what she could do. It really is about looking beyond the wrapper of somebody. Beryl has stayed because we have continued to be flexible about how and when she could work. In return, she has upskilled, embraced all new technology and brought a heart to the business, which we would have sorely missed.
I want Carpenters to demonstrate what can be achieved in all the right ways for all the right reasons, real equality and real opportunity for the best people. I am very grateful and surprised to be where I am today, and I passionately want to try to provide a way for others to have that same opportunity. We will never have a truly balanced and successful workplace, in my opinion, until we have true equality of opportunity.