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‘Male senior leaders are taking more active steps to make changes’

Stephanie Hamon, Head of External Engagement at Barclays, is excited that there is an increasing recognition of all parts of the legal eco-system and their contribution to the common goal − that clients are now in a strong position to affect positive change in the industry − and believes the variety of representatives in the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law Advisory Board reflects this.

How did it all start for you, and when did you first become interested in the law?

I am not sure whether to say through fate or by accident, but I sort of fell into law. When I was deciding what to study in France I was choosing between law and business, but chose business as it suited my profile more. I started at Linklaters, who at the time had a training programme for their support function, which included a bit of marketing, finance, HR, so I could apply my business skills to manage the firm. I discovered a whole new world, and have now been working in law firms or with lawyers coming up to 18 years now. I liked the intellectual challenge that you had to be on your toes and be alert, because what we do has an effect. I am not a lawyer, but in the business of managing a legal entity such as a private practice or in house, but I need to keep on top of things like the economy and how it will impact what my firm is doing. There is a drive for excellence and always going the extra mile, which is really motivating.

Have your aspirations changed throughout your law career?

Moving across to the UK to study really opened up my eyes to cultural differences. I never thought that on crossing the channel I would find things so different. Being French working in the UK − a lot of things are quite similar, for example, we have a similar culture, and we went through the same things during our lives and history − so it shouldn’t be that different, but it is. The most noticeable differences are the education system and careers and progression. In the UK, there is maybe more of a meritocracy. I felt that when I started the world was there for the taking if I wanted to go after it. Therefore my approach has always been that, if there is an interesting opportunity, go and take it, give it a try, and if you make a success of it, great, and even if you don’t − don’t have any regrets.

What influences have impacted your career path?

There was definitely the move to the UK and the cultural awareness. I think it taught me to listen more and be aware of people around me and not just assume that people are thinking along the same lines as I do. There is also the impact of people that you meet along the way; people that inspire you. I was really lucky that early in my career I had really good managers that really helped me thrive. I also had some nasty ones, but then you learn how you want to look yourself, as a manager or somebody that has an impact, and what you definitely don’t want to look like. You grow up. And from that a sense of loyalty has been important. There are people I am still in touch with regularly, and seek advice from, and I would like to think it’s the same for people that have worked for me. I think it’s about the stewardship part of your role, and you don’t have to be a leader or a manager to demonstrate stewardship, and how to leave things in a better shape than when you found them. Those are the things that have influenced the decisions I have made in my career to date.

What do you think are the triggers around the increasing awareness of the need to address gender diversity in the legal industry?

I think it’s actually because we have more men talking about it now, and not just talking but putting it into action. I think male senior leaders are taking more active steps to make changes, and that’s an accelerating factor. I mean the debate has been around for a long time now, so I don’t think there is anything new that’s triggered it, but there has been a turning point now where we are not just talking the talk but walking the walk. And that is, for me, really the sign of change.

What are the key things in-house legal teams are doing well to turn the dial on gender diversity?

At the moment, I am really lucky to be working at Barclays where it’s a genuine topic on the agenda for our Chief General Counsel who is a male leader and the legal executive committee that is predominantly female. I think when you have a strong message coming from the top, with concrete and specific actions, it makes a difference. I wouldn’t want to generalise across all in-house teams, but what I found refreshing coming to Barclays from private practice is that it wasn’t just a thing people say because you have to say it and it makes them look good, it’s a genuine topic that is being looked at and addressed. I won’t pretend we have all the answers as I don’t think there is a silver bullet, but I have seen real things in practice that are trying to move the needle. Looking at, for instance, the panel of candidates, making sure there is good female representation every time we open a new position. Creating a position for all our boards that when there isn’t enough female representation we can bring in female talent around the table, and that is really positive.                                               

Do you have any women you have met in your career/other parts of life that inspire you? And do you have advice that you could share with fellow women in law looking to advance their career?

I wouldn’t single anyone out, as I think at different times in your career you learn different things or you need to be taught different things. I have had great managers, female and male, as well as bad managers female and male. But my first manager was a woman, and I think she really taught me about respect, that being a manager shouldn’t give you a sense of entitlement, and that just because you have the title doesn’t mean you can impose things on others. You have to respect your team, earn their trust and show what you can do, and you have to listen − Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is really important. She also taught me that as a manager or as a leader, even if you don’t have that many direct reports, you can’t achieve anything by yourself; you will always need people around you to help you deliver. If you can’t create a good team and respect people in the team, you won’t go anywhere. Or you might, but you will inevitably fall. In no job, at least in legal, can you be on your own; it’s all a joint effort. It’s relationship based work – so you have to work in partnership with others, respecting what they have to say and appreciate them for their efforts is really key.

Why did you become an Advisory Board member for the TWLL programme?

Maybe because I am not a lawyer, I never thought my voice would be that important. When people think of the legal industry they think lawyer. Increasingly the role of business people working with lawyers is becoming more important. Lucinda Case, Managing Director at Thomson Reuters Legal, was actually the one that convinced me that it’s interesting to have a different voice. Also when we talk about careers, at least when I started it was all about the ladder type career, where you have to go up and up and up, but actually there are so many new professions in this industry. It would be interesting for women out there to realise there are other senior roles and interesting ones that get you to the heart of a company and help deliver the strategy. That you don’t have to be a senior lawyer or partner, that you can take a different path and still get a seat at the table. I think you can see that more and more clients are driving change in the industry, and being part of external engagement and deciding which firms we want to use and what our criteria is for selection, this is close to my day to day job as well. We can use our clients’ position to change things quicker and for the better.

What excites you the most about the TWLL programme?

What I like is that there are different parties from the industry, and therefore that it is not about one part of the eco-system. There are different elements of it coming together, and we have practical elements coming out of it – it’s not another initiative where we just talk and debate. We don’t lack brainpower in the industry, people are very clever so we can talk and debate and conceptualise for years and years, which is what we have been doing. What I feel with this group of women is that there is a desire to affect change in a practical way. There need to be longer term goals, but it’s also about what you can do tomorrow, and this is what’s going to help to move the needle.

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