In recognition of International Women’s Day, Harneys’ female litigation partners from Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong and London share their thoughts on gender equality issues in offshore law, how Harneys has supported them, and their advice for female practitioners entering the field. The fact the majority of Harneys’ female partners have been appointed in the last 12 months is a testament to the firm wide endeavour to accelerate gender parity.
A conversation with Harneys’ female litigation partners
Lilla Zuill – Managing Partner, Bermuda (LZ)
Claire Goldstein – Partner, British Virgin Islands (CG)
Jessica Williams – Partner, Cayman Islands (JW)
Jo Verbiesen – Partner, Hong Kong (JV)
Vicky Lord – Partner, London (VL)
What does gender equality mean to you?
LZ: We won’t have gender equality until there exists no bias against the work of a woman strictly on the basis that the work was produced by a female. We get closer to achieving that each year and indeed it is now highly unusual to have your work graded in relation to your gender. However, one only has to look at the constitution of boards of directors and the executive suite to see that we still have a ways to go.
What is it like being a woman offshore?
VL: The BVI is quite a matriarchal society – it’s quite an empowered place for women to progress – for example, the Chief Justice is a woman.
LZ: In Bermuda, we are making great strides. According to the Bermuda Bar Council’s most recent annual report, of the 502 practising members of the Bermuda Bar, 251 are men and 251 are women. The number of women practising in the insolvency and restructuring space in Bermuda is however still relatively small. I would like to see that change, and helpfully, there is great support within that small field from fellow female practitioners.
JV: The insolvency market is quite male-dominated, and that’s very distinct in Cayman – but far more pronounced in Hong Kong due to historical gender relations in China – although there are moves to progress this.
What advice would you would give to female practitioners entering the field?
JV: Have the confidence to put yourself forward. As a woman it’s easy to feel that you aren’t as authoritative as others – when I started doing insolvency work I remember thinking that I’d be well behind. But, it turns out I have just as much experience as everyone else, and no one knows the answer to every question. So think to yourself: I know just as much as the man standing next to me. Also, take advantage of the skills that are innate in women – like attention to detail and organisation – to progress your career, rather than trying to be like a man. Women have a distinct advantage in the way that they operate, and these skills are really useful, in the industry.
How has the gender equality landscape changed since you began your career?
CG: Things are improving – or maybe I am now working at a firm in which this is taken more seriously.
JV: As more women enter high level managerial positions in industry, we are seeing a greater acceptance of women in our legal (and offshore) legal industry.
VL: We’re seeing more and more women in higher positions who are there on merit.
How does Harneys support you and other women?
CG: Harneys is excellent – I was recently promoted to partner despite being away from the office on maternity leave for most of the year prior to the partnership decision being made. The firm has recently started a women’s group and we are encouraged to attend women’s networking events.
JV: Harneys is quite different. The partners at leader level actively push to promote women, because they recognise that the skills women have can really make an impact on the business – it is not a it is not a one-size-fits all-approach and it is necessary to have diverse talents. Because of Harneys’ flexibility, I’ve been able to continue working with a young family, without feeling like I’ve fallen behind in any way is incredibly important to me – certainly I wouldn’t have been given that opportunity elsewhere.
What is your opinion of promoting gender equality in the workplace?
CG: It is important, especially in areas that have not previously attracted women.
VL: The best way to promote women is to ensure there is an even playing field and that people are employed for what they bring to the table, and not on the basis of their gender.
What has inspired you in your career?
CG: There are a lot of people who have different qualities that I admire: both men and women.
JW: It is cliché, but my mother. As I get older I am constantly realising the magnitude of the sacrifices she made for our family, and the degree of her selflessness (plus she is always right…).
LZ: I have plenty of heroes but constant inspiration comes from my daughters – they inspire me each day to strive to be an example of what can be achieved with hard work.
JV: The President of the Court of Appeal – he has shown that people can achieve on their talent and merit, by behaving with dignity and integrity.
VL: My mum – she always pushed me to achieve and find a profession that I would find interesting.
How do you feel you can live out this year’s theme for IWD – Be Bold for Change?
VL: By speaking out – if we perceive that something is unfair or we’re being treated in a way that we ought not to be, it’s up to us to have the courage to constructively challenge that. Quite often, people don’t perceive the impact of what they are doing – and change doesn’t get effected by people being quiet.
This article is part of Harneys’ celebration of International Women’s Day 2017. To read more about our female litigators see this related post, and for a perspective on gender equity in the funds industry visit our sister publication, The Offshore Funds Blog.