BLOG POST WRITTEN BY OUR BENEFACTOR HAUSFELD
Lianne Craig, Managing Partner, Hausfeld (London)
On this International Women’s Day, we find ourselves amidst unprecedented evolution in the world of work. I believe female leaders will play a critical role in a successful transition and that business will be all the stronger for it.
Female board appointments to FTSE100 companies have risen to nearly 40% in the UK over the last decade yet executive roles are still rare with only 8% of those companies having a female CEO. Over that period, the UK legal services industry has lagged even further behind in terms of female progression into leadership roles though this is now slowly beginning to change with a refreshing number of female appointments into senior leadership roles in London-headquartered global law firms over the past 24 months, including Magic Circle firms such as Freshfields and Linklaters.
In those same 24 months, working practices have undergone a seismic shift as a consequence of the ‘work from home’ mandates necessitated by the global pandemic. Businesses have been forced to rethink and implement flexible working policies. Much to the surprise of many, this huge social experiment has shown that productivity does not need to suffer and culture can be preserved even when employees are not working the ‘9-5’ five days a week in the office. Employees are now demanding flexibility in a labour market where the younger generation are calling the shots, with salary wars raging in the professional services sector and the ‘Great Resignation’ underway. There is a recognition that ‘hybrid’ working is here to stay.
Female leadership in the spotlight
Many female leaders have well developed soft skills, honed through many years of navigating male-dominated working environments, often juggling motherhood and/or other caring responsibilities with heavy work commitments. Their skills and experiences translate in the workplace to a particularly ‘human’ brand of leadership that is particularly appealing to the younger generation of employees to whom empathy, inclusion and flexibility are critical.
Female leaders can distinguish themselves using this form of conscious leadership: recognising the diverse talents that different employees have to offer to both the organisation and the community. When a woman reaches the higher echelons of an organisation, she will bring empathy, the ability to listen with openness and a desire to work collaboratively with the collective rather than the individual in mind. She understands what it is like to have to adapt to working in an environment that is not her natural habitat in order to succeed. Most of all, she is highly motivated to effect positive organisational and societal change so that the experiences of those growing and developing in her wake will be markedly different to her own, allowing those from diverse backgrounds to thrive because of who they are (rather than despite of it).
Many of the pandemic-driven developments represent changes that women in the workplace have sought for many years. Female leaders are highly motivated to reframe working environments and practices in a way that is sustainable, inclusive, and humane. They also understand that, now more than ever, a strong sense of the collective and community, led from the top, will be critical to every organisation trying to navigate the world of hybrid working. Individual compromise will be required in order to ensure that firm ‘culture’ not only thrives but survives these huge changes to the way we interact as humans in the workplace.
Women are, I believe, particularly well suited to tackle the challenges, and leverage the opportunities, that the ‘new’ workplace presents.
Spain has been at the forefront of proposing positive solutions: early on in the pandemic, in June 2020, the Declaration of Remote Working: 12 commitments + 12 causes was created jointly by Women in a Legal World and 50&50 Gender Leadership to encourage the promotion of a new business culture. It is likely that we will see similar initiatives become widespread before long.
As a mother of daughters, and a law firm leader, I find myself optimistic about the landscape for emerging female talent and the accelerating opportunities to create the next more diverse generation of leaders.