I have always believed in the power of story-telling. Stories influence, teach and inspire. They forge connections between people and ideas. They allow us to process information more easily, connecting information to emotions. I can never remember data or facts, but I will always remember a story and most importantly, I will always remember how it made me feel. Stories have inspired me, have galvanised me into action, have moved me to tears and during difficult times, have lifted me up and given me the power to carry on.
Stories, authentic stories, are such powerful agents for change. So as an organisation that is looking to drive positive change in the legal industry, She Breaks the Law brought its members together in London last week for a special She Shares event designed to enable us to share our career journeys and speak openly about the challenges we have encountered along the way. Because we feel that nobody should look at another women leader and say “How does she do that?!”
The ultimate take-away from the morning was that no matter how perfect or airbrushed someone’s career journey may appear, everyone has been through adversity and challenge that has to some extent informed choices and direction and contributed to where they are.
These were some of the themes which came up in our morning of story-telling.
Many members admitted to suffering from imposter syndrome. Root causes seemed to include feeling out of place at an elite university socially, being different in terms of cultural background to being the only woman in a male-dominated environment. It seemed that nobody was alone in suffering from imposter syndrome – this was even shared by some of our male supporters who joined us. Incredible to be in a room of high-achieving women leaders many of whom recounted periods of feeling this way. Here’s hoping that breaking the silence on imposter syndrome within our membership and collaborating together to develop a new script is going to empower us all to know the value we provide as women leaders and stop the comparisons.
Grief, personal loss and health
Grief and personal loss was a common theme. Parental loss and miscarriage had affected many, impacting the career path in different ways and often resulting in a dramatic change of direction. I know from personal experience that losing my mother very suddenly was a marker for a dramatic C change not only career-wise, but in how I approached life in general. It was empowering to break the stigma around miscarriage and talk openly and frankly about this fact of life. As women, our biology means we are subject to numerous health challenges which remain stigmatized by the business world and throw more barriers in our path, from the challenges of fertility and child-bearing through to later stages in life. Health in general came up in many stories, from sustaining a career with a chronic invisible condition to overcoming mental health challenges.
The words of one of our co-founders who bravely presented her personal story will stay with me on this, when she said that when you are faced with such challenges “Working in a supportive environment is more important than money or titles.”
Doing it for the kids
How to further your career whilst raising a family was widely discussed as seems to (depressingly) remain a key issue for senior women in business. In our group, we discussed the fact that educational structures have yet to catch up with the modern-day world of a family where two parents work full-time. The impossibility of the crazy ‘end of term’ week where the school decides they will host Sports Day on the Monday, assembly on the Tuesday, parents afternoon on the Wednesday, reading morning on the Thursday – oh, and can you bring the kids in fancy dress on the Friday? And make some cakes as well with all the rest of that spare time you have! Schools continue to operate in a way that presumes there is always one parent at home and we continue to feel guilt at asking employers for the time needed to support our children on this, putting huge pressure on ourselves or resulting in sad-faced children. Some of us admitted to staying put in a role for longer than we would have done because of the flexibility it offered us. Let’s stop pretending this is not the huge challenge it still is. There is much progress to be made in the business world still in supporting working parents. As senior women in business, we play an influential role in setting a positive example by working flexibly around family commitments to enable women coming up the ladder to feel like they can achieve some form of balance in this respect.
No grand master plan
We all admitted there was no grand master plan. None of us had really planned our careers to turn out as they had. Opportunity and challenge had shaped our paths. Sometimes things happen and it was how we had reacted to these life events which had led to our positions now.
In the wise words of Albus Dumbledore “It is our choices that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Advice to my younger self
We finished off our morning of story-telling with some notes of advice to our younger self. What would you tell your twenty-year old self starting out on their career? From following what lights you up to believing in yourself and not being afraid to break the mould, we posted these sage words from our leaders on the wall. We’ll be sharing these on Twitter over the coming weeks under #sheshares #advicetomyyoungerself if you would like to tune in.
I am sure I am not alone in feeling a huge sense of empowerment and solidarity from the event and hope that other senior women across the legal industry continue to share their stories honestly. As Michelle Obama said” Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”
If you are a women leader in legal innovation, join the She Breaks the Law LinkedIn group to meet other #lawbreakers globally and take part in our events: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8732283/
As well as CMO of She Breaks the Law, I am a legal marketing coach with a sweet spot for legal services businesses who are driving positive change in the legal industry. Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a discovery chat on how I might help your business.