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Greater diversity is essential for law firms in today’s rapidly changing world

Datum: 07-11-2017
Interview

Vivian Lee is a senior associate at De Brauw specialising in equity capital markets. She participated in the OSR’s International Women Leadership Programme (IWLP).
 
“A law firm’s most important asset is its human capital, its people. Firms, therefore, have an interest in keeping the best professionals, and this includes women. Gender diversity in legal partnerships is a matter of concern and the lack of role models can be rather discouraging for female associates. This needs to change.”

Why do you think it’s important for women with high potential to join the IWLP?  

“One of the goals of the IWLP is to empower women so that they can also make partnership - and make a difference. For me personally, following the programme was a very empowering experience. The IWLP encourages you to review your role in the firm, what motivates you, and whether you are making the most of your personal qualities, skills and values. It provides the tools to enable women associates with high potential to move forward, should they decide to aim for partnership.”

What did you learn from the programme?  

“The IWLP was a real eye opener for me on many fronts. Firstly, understanding the unwritten rules of making a career in a law firm, such as the need to promote yourself well to make partnership. Women tend to be much more modest than men about their achievements. When you become aware of this, you can choose to do more to increase your visibility.
 
A second aspect of the IWLP I really appreciated, was the evaluation we were asked to collect for one of the sessions. All programme participants invited two seniors, two peers and two juniors to provide feedback on their work. What makes you a good colleague, where can you improve? The feedback received felt to me not only like a gift, it’s also a useful tool that you can keep and revisit after the programme.
 
A third aspect where I learnt a lot from the IWLP was client development and how to pitch for work. This is something that is expected of you when you reach a certain level of seniority. Further, if you apply for partnership, a firm will consider whether you can bring in new clients and maintain client relationships. The exercises on pitching presented an opportunity to practice and so improve this skill - one example of how the IWLP provides a good mix of information and action to ensure you internalise what you have learnt.”

How did you implement what you learnt at De Brauw? 

“As part of the IWLP, we took an online test to reveal our behavioural patterns, learned and innate. I discovered that a lot of what makes me a great associate is learned behaviour and that even if I excel at it, it can also cost me a lot of energy. Innate behaviour by contrast involves things that I enjoy doing, that come naturally to me and where I can excel. So, I have been trying to focus more on these areas, since they also bring me more satisfaction.”

What is your vision for the future for firms like De Brauw? 

“Ideally, I see a partnership, where everyone can find a role model at the partnership level so that they can also imagine themselves in this role.  A partnership of men and women from different backgrounds and colour, with different interests and speaking a variety of languages. Without diversity of background and ways of thinking at partnership level, firms will potentially be less able to adapt in today’s rapidly changing world, where they are under a lot of pressure to continue to meet their clients’ needs. Diversity ultimately works in a firm’s favour.
 
The current lack of role models for women in partnership – whether male or female - was something stressed by many IWLP participants and is, I believe, one of the greatest challenges today. Participating in the IWLP is a really good first step, as it empowers women to aim for partnership. However, alone it is not enough, because the system itself needs to change. Of course, this will happen eventually, if firms spend more resources on increasing awareness and there are eventually sufficient female partners at the top. What is needed now is a common awareness where the issue is approached from both sides, that is, also from those who can make changes and make a difference.”

International Women Leadership Programme

Do you want to know more about our International Women Leadership Programme? You can download this brochure. Or do you have questions? Our programme manager, and also founder of IWLP, Carolien can answer them. You can send an e-mail to kattenpoel@osr.nl.