In an interview with Rhonda Bennett, Head of IT business change at Pinsent Masons, we, Attune Flexible Jobs, asked her how she has worked flexibly for many years, as well as being promoted five times in a career that has spanned twenty years ensuring that working flexibly has never held her back …. When you
Female Futures – it’s not about competition but collaboration.
Andrea McIlroy-Rose, Partner and Head of Belfast Office talks to us about the importance of Female Futures.
Why did you set up the women’s network Female Futures at Pinsent Masons?
Pinsent Masons has a very strong diversity and inclusion employee network with six diversity groups – multi-faith, multi cultural, LGBT, family network group and disability and wellbeing along with Female Futures. Female Futures is the largest group in terms of membership and we have representatives acting as chairs for the group across nearly all 24 of our global offices. I act as the international chair as well as chair of the Belfast office where I’m based, and some offices have co-chairs too. As the group has become larger and more established, we have worked hard to ensure that we are as representative of all of the offices as possible.
How large is the membership today?
The group has over 400 members in total and includes women and men although the majority of the membership is female. Female Futures was established about five years ago as a networking group for women and the aim is to make it as inclusive and constructive as possible and the overriding objective is to make Pinsent Masons’ the best place for women to work at all levels.
How does Female Futures operate?
It’s a forum to meet and interact with colleagues and clients from all types of businesses. We run a series of events throughout the year from social events to talks from inspirational women and tailored workshops. At the moment, for example, we are providing training on ‘imposter syndrome’ run by our Diversity and Inclusion consultant, Kate Dodd throughout the UK offices. It is aimed at women and men below partner level who may lack confidence and need to be encouraged to believe in themselves and their talents. We also provide support for women going on maternity leave and those going through the promotion process, from mentors who have already been through these experiences.
What does Female Futures do to support International Women’s Day?
We run a number of events – one of the most exciting initiatives which we started last year, is our Inspiring Girls’ Conference. The day is a collaboration between various strands of our diversity and community investment network including Female Futures. It is aimed at girls aged between 15-17 from different schools throughout the UK who may not believe that they have the opportunity to have a career in law, maybe because they come from a disadvantaged background or have no real career support. We invite pupils from a number of schools, along with some of their teachers, to our London office and they enjoy a wonderful day which is designed especially for them. There are talks from inspirational speakers including some of our female board members and the senior partner and training from some of our consultants and charity partners. After lunch and a tour of the office, the girls are taken on an open-top bus tour of London and the firm then arranges for their transport home. This initiative has been a huge success with wonderful feedback from both the girls and the staff at Pinsent Masons who get involved and we have now started inviting some clients to attend and interact with the pupils. It is a great day and a wonderful opportunity to meet and encourage talented girls to aim high. In fact it has been such a success that a similar event for boys is now run by the firm with the same great results.
How far has the group made a difference in terms of attracting and retaining women at Pinsent Masons?
We have a lot of good feedback from staff about our Diversity network and the commitment of the firm to having a flexible and inclusive environment. This is proven by the fact that our Diversity Strategy is supported by our Board and the action plan for the year is set by the Diversity Steering Group, which each of the chairs of the network group are members of. This commitment helps to attract the best new recruits to the firm and the good working environment has a very positive effect on the retention of women.
One of the main reasons for the firm’s good record in attracting and retaining females is our innovative Project Sky initiative. This was launched by the Board in 2013 to ensure that over time we created a better balance of male and female representatives in our senior leadership positions at the firm. Project Sky works in conjunction with Female Futures to remove any unintentional hindrances to the progression of women to the highest level to which they aspire, whilst ensuring that our policies and working practices reward merit across the entire business, regardless of gender. As a result in 2017 we achieved our 2018 target of 25% female partners globally and have a new target to attain 30% female partners by 2020.
The female staff at Pinsent Masons can see that we work with the management team to discuss policies such as maternity and paternity rights and flexible working and that by being part of the group their views do get heard.
What are the main challenges you face with groups like Female Futures?
The main challenge for a large firm such as this is continuing to make the group as inclusive and relevant as possible wherever you are in the world. Different locations and cultures have different challenges and the aim is to have the same consistent policies where we can. We also have a mixture of professional and support staff as members and again this means that members have different priorities and issues and we are trying to appeal to and support all of them. It is also important that the group does not alienate men as we have great support from a large number of men within the firm and their perspective and encouragement is very important if there is to be a real gender balance within the firm.
What are your plans for Female Futures in the year ahead?
Our main objectives for the next year are to expand the membership of the group to have a good balance between professional and support staff and to run events and training that appeal to as many of our members as possible. We are also continuing to work with the international offices to encourage them to become as integrated as possible with the wider network and to identify their priorities and any policies which need to be reviewed and improved.
We also want to engage as much as possible with other firms and industries to share ideas and initiatives and prove that in relation to gender balance and the issues this throws up it’s not about competition but collaboration.
Huge thanks to Andrea for talking to us. If you would like to do the same please contact firstname.lastname@example.org