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World-of-work redesign will enable wider participation
Speakers Imelda Reynolds and Tarisai May Chidawanyika

08 Mar 2022 / law society Print

World-of-work redesign will enable wider participation

Positive changes in the administration of justice during the pandemic should be retained for those benefits that made the workplace more inclusive, a Law Society International Women’s Day (IWD) webinar heard this morning (8 March).

This is a time of opportunity, and a redesign of the working world will enable wider participation, the webinar heard.

Making a more creative workplace is important, with exchange of ideas from different perspectives, said Chief State Solicitor Maria Browne.

Reaching your full potential

Post-pandemic employees should be cherished, said Imelda Reynolds, the first female managing partner at Beauchamps in Dublin. This means respecting differences and enabling all employees to fulfil their potential, and “to be their best person at work and, indeed, at home”, she added.

Reynolds said that the world is changing very fast, and the difficulty of retaining talent is a reality, post COVID.

However, she warned that the ‘always-on’ culture is breaking down the divide between work and home in a manner that is difficult to manage.

Reynolds added that law can be a hard and demanding career, and she would encourage younger lawyers to take time for themselves and not become consumed by work.

“Be careful, it can take you over,” she said, adding that it’s important to take care of one’s health. And enjoy it, because if you’re not enjoying it, it’s a really difficult job to stick with,” she said.

‘Imposter syndrome’

Matheson lawyer and founder of Diversity in Law, Tarisai May Chidawanyika, said that as a woman from a minority background, she occasionally feels ‘imposter syndrome’ because there aren’t a lot of similar people in the workplace.

“I’m constantly working on this by shifting my perspective and reminding myself how hard I have worked,” she said.

She gives herself positive affirmations of “I’m here, I’m capable, I deserve it,” she explained.

Tarisai added that once she understood that her colleagues were simply trying to understand her, in the same way as she was trying to understand them, it led to a breakthrough in terms of building relationships.

“Everything was smooth sailing from there. I’m very close to a lot of my colleagues, and a lot of that is about communication, and me knowing that they really want to know me, understand me, and help me advance my career,” she said.

UCD BCL graduate Tarisai said that, in retrospect, she wishes she had engaged more with her university lecturers, but shyness held her back.

Outside the comfort zone

Recalling her qualification in 1987, DPP Catherine Pierse said that jobs were scarce and most people felt grateful simply to be in employment: “It was recessionary times and there were no jobs,” she said.

This experience heightened her awareness that it is at entry level that the barriers may be highest – in securing that first traineeship.

“The next battle is economic barriers to access to the profession,” the DPP said.

She agreed that it was important to move out of one’s comfort zone in order to get on, adding that it was possible to become somewhat cossetted and protected as one became more senior in the profession.

“It’s important for those of us in leadership positions to be conscious and proactive about that,” she said.

“Sometimes, it means knocking on doors, asking for advice. People actually like being asked for advice,” she suggested.

Imelda Reynolds concurred about qualifying in a dire economic situation, and offered praise for the Law Society’s hybrid PPC course.

“I think it is probably a real enabler for those people who can’t actually take six months off to go to Blackhall Place,” she said.

Career possibilities

Chief State Solicitor Maria Browne said that she wished she had known earlier about career possibilities, but her generation simply felt lucky to have a job: “Make every opportunity count,” she advised.

She commented that she was in a position of relative luxury  in terms of female representation in her organisation, but that greater diversity from other minority groups would be welcome.

Rounding up the event, the webinar’s moderator Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin commented that there was always more work to do, and added that the Law Society was always open to hearing different voices in the profession – especially those of younger members.

While working in a more collaborative fashion may be a stereotypical view of women in leadership, it remains important to amplify voices and encourage participation, the Law Society President said.

DPP Catherine Pierse said that she hoped that, in the future, it would become less and less remarkable to have people of diverse backgrounds in leadership positions.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland