A 5 minute read on overcoming gender bias, the Great Resignation and how women in law can, through coaching, not only survive within the legal profession, but thrive and go for those leadership positions, which previously may have seemed unattainable.
International Women’s Day 2022 emerging from a Pandemic
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, Break the Bias, clearly intends to highlight the continuing inequalities women face around the world, particularly in the world of work. You don’t have to search too hard to find the disproportionately adverse impact on women of the pandemic over the last 2 years, as women were hit hardest by the mass exodus from the labour market. US figures demonstrated that 2.2 million women dropped out of the labour market altogether during the pandemic year 2020-2021. Much of this was driven out of cultural bias around childcare, the majority of which is still provided globally by women as opposed to men.
The impact of the Great Resignation on bias
In 2022 though, arguably there has been a more empowering shift: the worldwide arrival of The Great Resignation. According to Deutsche Bank data analysis, the phenomenon has meant that in the UK specifically, resignation rates were at their highest since 2009. Most shocking of all the statistics was the finding, from the more recent Airwaves poll from January 2022, that half of workers were considering quitting their jobs this year. Although these figures don’t discriminate between men and women, what we can take from them is that women are leaving roles not purely based on decisions around caring responsibilities, but because they are also now reassessing their priorities and futures, creating a vast, untapped pool of talent.
Pre-Pandemic retention stats reveal a long-held problem
We already had a significant female talent retention problem in the legal profession before the pandemic. The pre-pandemic figures spoke for themselves: 52% of all new entrants to the legal profession were women, but those figures dropped to just 29% female partners in law firms; 21% of circuit judges were women; 19% equity partners in law firms were female; only 16% of silks/ QCs are women at the Bar. To my mind, the retention stats show that either the traditional business model of target-driven billable hours isn’t supportive of women as leaders, or the definition of leadership in law is not something to which the vast majority of female lawyers aspire.
Resilience, Retention and Rising through Coaching and Training Programmes
Either way, my business mission has always had female talent retention at its heart. For coming up to 5 years now, I have been coaching and training women lawyers around 3 consistent topics – a re-writing of the 3 Rs if you will: Resilience, Retention and Rising. No better time to highlight ways in which women can overcome inherent bias in the legal profession around gender equality by introducing some of the very important coaching concepts I highlight through my work. By doing so I have always hoped to, firstly, empower women to remain resilient throughout their legal careers, and secondly support female lawyers in not only wanting to stay but also to thrive, by progressing their careers at a time of their choosing.
International Women’s Day 2022 seemed a fitting day then to launch my new-look coaching programme of the same name, Resilience, Retention and Rising, which aims to reduce talent attrition and drive cultural change to ensure female talent is not only retained but also elevated to leadership positions.
Here, a flavour of what participants might expect to gain from it and the coaching strategies they will come to experience and, more importantly, implement…
Throughout the pandemic, many of us have experienced at least passing moments of overwhelm, the feeling that we simply couldn’t cope with the obstacles that were being put in front of us. Through coaching, an opportunity to reflect and develop more of a growth mindset, to see the opportunities as opposed to the threats, to celebrate the wins not the losses. Equally, looking at perceived failures in a different way – as learning and development – helps to build up our ability to withstand and overcome challenge.
By working on mindset and positivity, clients are soon able to learn resilience skills to become more mentally tough/ robust, at times of great stress/ pressure, reduce the negative effects of limiting beliefs previously holding them back and challenge the taboos around asking for, and seeking, help.
With working lives changed beyond all recognition, after the whole scale adoption of working from home, and now a drive towards a hybrid model of flexible working, there is opportunity now to get our working lives “right” – communicate clearly what it is we need and ask how it is we get it. Work on focus, priorities, creating healthy boundaries and learning to say no have proved successful tools in the battle against attrition. When the wellbeing needs of employees are being met, when employees feel heard and supported, and they have the balance which so many desire, engagement is high and a culture of wanting to stay is embedded.
But those retained don’t simply want to survive. They want to thrive in their careers too. They seek promotion, elevation, more knowledge, increased responsibility, which brings us to our third and final coaching pillar.
It being hard to score without a goal, there is a lot to explore for people wishing to advance their careers around their goals and having honest conversations about how those goals fit in with their values and beliefs. Where there is a congruency between the two, there is likely to be not only a functional but also successful path to achievement.
This might also include tough conversations about levels of confidence – for example, of silk applicants, men apply when they are only 50% sure of success, whilst women wait til they are 90% sure of success- and how clients define success. The meaning of success is different for everyone and may need to be teased out of clients in very unique ways. We know from the pandemic and The Great Resignation that has followed, so many people are now reviewing their long-held career goals. To have honest yet challenging coaching conversations empowers them to step into their personal and professional power, for example by applying for the promotion that hitherto felt out of reach, or making an ostensibly “scary” transition to a different role/ department/ area/ firm for example.
A mantra in work that I live by is “have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life that others expect”. It is one of the central planks of my TEDx talk here and an important part of these coaching conversations – to encourage firms, instead of feeling threatened or fearful, to embrace conversations around unconventional career progression. Instead of the race to the top being seen as a sprint (with an in-built bias against women with caring responsibilities as a result), coaching can support clients approach it as a marathon: in which people get there in their own time but over a longer period. It doesn’t make the career break returner any less ambitious, she might just have to be a little more strategic in her approach and receive the right support and opportunity to do so.
Take action on those goals and plans
In conclusion, I invite all my women in law clients and the organisations for which they work to think of longer-term goals, make plans, then most importantly, create their own futures, whether individually or as a firm, by taking action.
After all, positive intentions without positive actions lead to positively nothing!
Break the Bias
Take action on breaking the bias yourself today by getting in touch: Let’s keep the conversation going about how you progress your coaching journey, whether through one-to-one coaching or through group training within your firm or organisation.
Look forward to connecting.
Nikki Alderson Biography
Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker and author, and former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience:
- supports organisations, law firms and barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; and
- empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.
Nikki specialises in 3 areas:
- Women leadership transition and change;
- Enhanced career break returner support; and
- Workplace resilience, mental toughness, confidence and wellness.
She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category and finalist in the 2020 Women in Law Awards, Legal Services Innovator of the Year and 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.