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Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day. Across the world individuals and organisiations will be celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge.

International Women’s Day is particularly important to Debenhams Ottaway as we are one of few firms with such a prominent female presence, especially at senior level. We have a female managing partner, 50% of partnership is female and 65% of senior leaders are women.

We attract and recruit a lot of people who are looking for careers more locally with flexibility to fit in caring responsibilities and maintain a healthy work life balance. 55% of our lawyers are female and at least a quarter of our workforce have flexible working arrangements. These are still very rare statistics within the legal industry, and we want to see more diversity in the future, not just in law but everywhere.

In celebration of #IWD2021, we have asked a handful of lawyers at Debenhams Ottaway about their experiences as women working in law and asked everyone across the firm to take part in the #ChooseToChallenge campaign to help raise awareness and break inequality across the world.

Juliet Schalker, Head of Litigation

Juliet Schalker spoke at the Women at the Forefront of International Insolvency Symposium on 3 March, hosted by the International Women’s Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation (IWIRC), in celebration of International Women’s Day. Debenhams Ottaway is a founding sponsor of the IWIRC London network and Juliet has been a key member of the group since the start.

What does IWD mean to you?

“International Women’s Day is a way to celebrate and acknowledge the amazing strides that have been made towards greater equality, both in the workplace and at home. However, it is also a powerful reminder of what still needs to be done to achieve true equality: an equal balance of men and women in senior positions (including equal pay) and an equal balance of emotional labour, housework and childcare at home.”

What would be your advice to young females as starting out in law or who are starting their career?

“If you want to grow your career, it is not enough to simply work hard, keep your head down and hope you get noticed. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way – you can always figure out what you need to do later. Be proactive – don’t wait to be told, come forward with your ideas on how to, say, progress a case or improve team spirit. Find a sponsor (male or female) who will advocate on your behalf for promotion. These are all things that (a lot of) men do naturally, but women are often afraid of being seen as self-centred or “not a team player” if they talk about their career progression.”

Are there any changes you would like to see to help support women in law?

“Working women, on the whole, still bear the lion’s share of childcare and housework. The pandemic has proved that flexible working is effective and, frankly, essential if we are going to retain more senior women in law. I think a lot of firms are moving towards better flexible working practices, but more needs to be done to allow women (and men) to balance both their working and home lives.”

Nazmin Chowdhury, Trainee

What does IWD mean to you?

“For me, this is a day to celebrate every little success and achievement of women. Most particularly, I like to use this day to think about all the amazing women who have supported me throughout my life and made me the person I am now.”

Who are your female role models?

“I can easily say that the woman who inspires me the most is my Nanu (maternal grandmother). She was a very active woman, filled with kindness in her heart and always ready to help the needy. I would always admire her willingness to try something new – whether it was travelling solo, learning to videocall or trying a new recipe in the kitchen. For me, she was definitely a trend setter and showed how women can achieve a lot in their lives (regardless of their age and gender)! “

Susan Glenholme, Managing Partner talks about what International Women’s Day means to her.

Managing partner, Susan Glenholme comments, “It is great to see so many people, men and women, getting involved in this initiative. As a female managing partner, I am very proud that over half of our partners and workforce is female and something I would like to see more of in the legal industry. I hope that I can be an inspiration to other women in the workplace to believe that they can progress to senior positions within law firms and other organisations with hard work and believing in themselves, breaking stereotypes across the sector.

To find out more about International Women’s Day and how to show your support please visit their website.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.