International Women's Day 2018
23 April 2018
Celebrated each year on March 8, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to take stock of women’s achievements in every sphere of life, as well as to note how far there is still to go before women are fully equal. Since IWD began, in the early years of the 20th century, the position of women in Western society has changed immensely – yet still we are fighting battles that would be recognisable to women from a century ago, for the right to the same pay for the same work, and for the right to live free of harassment and abuse, to name but two.
In association with Grant Thornton, R3 held a breakfast meeting on IWD 2018 in London, where, in front of a largely female audience, prominent women involved in insolvency, restructuring and professional services talked about their experiences, their advice, and their hopes for the future.
Starting off the event, Grant Thornton’s CEO, Sacha Romanovitch, spoke via video of the need to move beyond a system designed in the past to benefit privileged men, with a hierarchical approach and a short-term outlook baked into it, towards a more inclusive, sustainable and collaborative model: “What creates change is connected communities coming together.” She asked the audience to reflect on what norms we reinforce – consciously or not – and to think about the type of system that is and will increasingly be required in order for us all to adapt to a world without unlimited resources, with a need for shared purpose so everyone can thrive.
Following on, Keely Woodley, head of human capital services and a partner at Grant Thornton summarised GT’s “Women in business 2018” report, while mixing in some of her own career experiences. While the global report found some encouraging signs, such as three quarters of businesses in 2018 saying they have women in senior management, up from 66% in 2017, the findings also served as a reminder of the need for vigilance against back-sliding, with the proportion of senior roles held by women declining from 25% in 2017 to 24% in the latest survey. Keely also talked about firms can support employees to “bring their whole selves to work”, not least because supporting workers through challenging times allows them to “give back” later. With women still taking on a greater share of caring duties, from looking after children to elderly relatives, it was an apt issue to raise on IWD. Organisations can help by “setting people up to succeed, not fail”, changing the culture for the future.
The final speaker of the morning, Christine Derrett, a former Registrar of the High Court who retired in November 2017, gave a colourful and inspiring account of her career in law and insolvency, from starting as a solicitor in 1982 to becoming a full-time Registrar in Bankruptcy in 2002. As part of what she described as the first generation where women were really able to combine having a family with a career, Christine witnessed first-hand the seismic changes in the City, from 1986’s Big Bang onwards, and discussed how new ways of working and new opportunities benefited professional women. Christine set herself five-year goals, which helped her steadily progress within her profession, until – after a year as a part-time Registrar – a full-time position opened up in 2002, and she was encouraged to apply for it, despite having some concerns that it was ‘too soon’ for her. Becoming a full-time judge was something of a shock, she related, as she was suddenly “isolated”, without a team surrounding her; on the upside, the court’s terms more or less coincided with those of her children’s schools, while she was also able to write judgments from home, and to undertake more work remotely as technology improved, helping to maintain a work-life balance. Christine rounded off her talk with a Nora Ephron quote: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
In all, the event was positive, constructive and welcoming (with plenty of men in the room), and fizzed with energy due to having so many fantastic women, from the speakers to the audience, gathered together. Emerging into unseasonably bright sunshine, it wasn’t hard to feel hopeful about the prospects for women in the insolvency and restructuring profession, and – more widely – for all women. It’s now up to all of us to carry this hope forwards, to help shift the paradigm towards one that is more inclusive, as called for by Sacha; one where everyone can bring their whole self to work, as Keely described; and one where all women have the opportunity to be heroines, as Christine concluded.
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