In 2013, in was 10 years into my time with Mayo Wynne Baxter, a partner, and with at least 14 years behind me since qualification.
I had just had a discussion with a client regarding his mother’s probate, which might involve litigation with his sister, but I had a plan to avoid that. The meeting had been long, detailed and quite complex. I felt “in the zone” I’d given great advice, set out a good plan, and was keen to get on.
And then this question; "That’s great, now have you got a man who can do this?”
I just laughed and said yes, but they are not as good as me! Reader, he instructed me!
My name is Fiona Dodd, I am a partner in Mayo Wynne Baxter based out of Lewes, I am head of the private client team, head of our operations committee, and sit on our board.
When I was at university more 25 years ago and later at law school it was clear that a lot more women were studying law, but not as many were getting opportunities as the men, particularly in some of the larger London firms. If you were white, male and privately educated you were pretty much guaranteed a training contract, and the only decision would be how short to cut their hair to conform!
I joined Wynne Baxter as the firm then was in 2003, just after I had my first child. The firm was willing to wait for more months than a usual notice period as I had some post maternity leave contractual matters I needed to fulfil. I have never forgotten that kindness, and we paid it forward when we recruited a colleague who was then on maternity leave at another firm, and waited a few months for her to join us.
Throughout my career as a female lawyer I have had to combat various prejudices, firstly when newly qualified advising elderly clients, “what can she possibly know about my life experience?”, or being taken to one side and told that “some of the older male partners don’t think your shoes are appropriate for the office” (they were leather sandals). Sometimes I have played on subverting those prejudices, peroxiding my hair on the basis that if someone thinks a woman can’t do this, then what about a bleached blonde woman?? Sometimes I’ve probably reinforced them along the way – who hasn’t been moved to tears from time to time?
I have always worked full time, and I am grateful that when I needed to I could flex my time a little to allow me to do the nursery and school drop off as often as I could. I have always felt supported in my career at MWB, but was always conscious that in law and other professions the workplace is historically male suited, and women have had to fit in.
I love seeing so many women now getting to positions of power and influence. This means that we don’t need to fit in, we can shape our work, and to some extent our world to fit us. This is not a zero sum game, if I win, you don’t lose, we all win. For example there are still barriers for those with caring obligations to attend evening networking functions, and those caring obligations still fall predominately on women. We pay for a cab home, but shouldn’t we pay for a sitter to watch the children if the parent needs to attend? Or shouldn’t we schedule networking in the working hours so all can go?
We have some absolutely fabulous women in the group, and we need to listen to them to keep them contributing. As more women get into positions of authority, those setting the agenda tend to be older. We need to remember the struggles we may have had, and help our younger sisters, but we also need to make sure they don’t have to keep struggling as they age. Looking to the future, for example, we need to talk about menopause and how we support our women, who are probably at their peak, to stay there and be able to continue to contribute until they want to stop, not because they have to!