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R3 Member Spotlight: Asma Iqbal

R3 Member Spotlight: Asma Iqbal

17 April 2024

Asma is an Equity Partner at Chadwick Lawrence Solicitors, who have eight offices across West Yorkshire; and heads their Corporate Recovery and Insolvency Department.

Asma’s main areas of practice include advising businesses, Directors, and Insolvency Practitioners, in corporate pre-insolvency and insolvency scenarios. Asma has been Chair of the R3 Women’s Group in Yorkshire and is a current Committee Member of the R3’s Membership Committee and the Regional R3 Committee and sits on the R3 Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group.

1.       What made you decide to pursue a career in insolvency and restructuring?

Upon qualification as a Solicitor, I came to work for a commercial law firm in Leeds; Brooke North Solicitors as an Assistant Solicitor in their insolvency department. I had the absolute privilege of learning everything I needed to know to become a good insolvency lawyer from the experts, namely Steven Frieze (Deputy District Judge) and Stuart Frith (Deputy Insolvency and Companies Court Judge – past President of R3). My tenure with Brook Noth was during the largest insolvency crisis of its time, being the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a good time to learn about Insolvency. It was inevitable with mentors like Steven and Stuart that I was going to carve a niche for myself in insolvency and restructuring.

2.       How did you get to where you are today and is there a piece of advice you wish you’d been given at the start of your career?

I strongly believe, if it was not for the people around me who mentored me, supported me, pushed me to take on challenges that came with opportunities, I would not be where I am today.

I look back and really appreciate the allyship, unwavering support, and guidance I was given in a very male dominated industry, where I was primarily the only Muslim woman of colour practising insolvency law at that time. The awareness of the challenges for women in insolvency were not overtly discussed back then, but I am proud to say that I had the support of good people who focused on talent, which ultimately shaped my career. 

The advice I would give is to take every opportunity and embrace risk, even if it means stepping outside of your comfort zone. I have had to do this every step of the way in my career, and it has worked to my advantage. Secondly, gain as much experience as you can and build your network of connections, eventually this will pay dividends.

3.       How has the profession changed since you’ve joined it?

As I stated before, awareness around the challenges and barriers for women and under-represented groups in the insolvency and restructuring industry and ways and mechanisms of addressing these challenges. I am pleased to see that a number of equality and diversity groups have been set up to bring about positive culture change in our industry. The recognition that there is a lack of women in leadership positions in Insolvency and advisory roles and making positive changes in this regard, is a step in the right direction. 

I am still on occasions the only Muslim woman of colour at insolvency networking events, but it is pleasing to see that these events no longer centre around drink and/or golf!  We still have a long way to go but this awareness means that we can address the challenges and work together to overcome them, making it a more inclusive and diverse profession, which is open and accessible to all.

4.       You have Chaired the R3 Women’s Group in Yorkshire and act as a Diversity and Inclusion Champion for the joint Insolvency Service and R3 Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group. What can you tell us about the work of these groups and why they are important to you?

I have been the Chairwoman of the R3 Women’s Group in the Yorkshire region. Credit for this opportunity goes to Helen Kavanagh, who handed over the reins to me at a time when I was perhaps feeling my least confident in my career, having just returned from maternity leave.  It was the perfect opportunity that she handed to me, which boosted my confidence and shaped my personal profile in Insolvency, a great example of female solidarity. I continue to serve on the R3 Membership Committee and the Regional Committee and have become part of the R3 Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group to further the work on Diversity.

I am also part of the cohort of Champions for Diversity and Inclusion for the Insolvency Service and recently accepted the appointment as a Committee Member for the INSOL International Diversity and Equity Inclusion Committee.

Aside from Insolvency, I am the Inclusivity Champion for West Yorkshire Combined Authority Business Board and Deputy Business Advisor to the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, and am proud to be working on developing a new economic strategy for West Yorkshire with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion embedded.

I also form part of the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce BAME Committee.

All of this work I do on a voluntary basis to help Equality and Diversity and social mobility for women and minority ethnic groups, to help future generations coming into our industry.  By having a “seat at the table” in these organisations, I hope that I am able to add value by bringing a different perspective, which will assist our younger generation from diverse backgrounds, having equal access to professional opportunities, networking, and mentoring. 

The above illustrates my passion for equality, diversity and inclusion, and working to bring about change in organisations, institutions, and businesses.  

5.       Since becoming an R3 member, which aspects of membership have you found most beneficial?

Being an R3 member has helped to raise my profile and has enabled me to meet other Insolvency professionals and broaden my network outside of the region that I practice in.  The R3 Ladies’ Group has introduced me to many inspirational women in our profession who are in leadership roles, many of whom are my role models.

6.       What do you consider to be your biggest achievement in the profession to date?

It is quite ironic that my biggest achievement was in a case that was not Insolvency related.  During the pandemic, when Insolvency work was fairly quiet, I had the opportunity and took on a high-profile case against Yorkshire County Cricket Club, acting on behalf of an ex-professional cricketer, Azeem Rafiq, regarding his allegations of institutional racism against the Club. I have always maintained that an Insolvency lawyer is very versatile and we are trained to “think outside the box”. I was able to apply my skills as an Insolvency lawyer to win this case which became the highlight of my legal career. Following the success and worldwide profile of this case I won a number of awards and featured in the Lawyer’s Hot 100 List in 2022. I was a finalist for Yorkshire Lawyer of the Year 2022. I was named Business Leader of the Year 2023 and for my achievements in law in the Business Muslim Awards 2023. I was winner of the Business Desk Diversity and Inclusion Leader Award 2022 and I have been included in the Northern Women Powerlist 2024. I have also recently been included in the Top 20 Legal LinkedIn Influencer List as an Expert in Insolvency which I am really proud of.

Leaving aside the recognition and awards, in my view, my achievement was that the success of my case became a catalyst for change, where most organisations wanted a meaningful discussion and to implement Diversity and Inclusion in the culture of their organisation which was quite profound. 

7.       What do you consider as the biggest challenge for the insolvency and recovery profession in the future?

I have outlined above all of the important work that is being done to break down barriers and challenges, in making our profession more accessible to women and minority ethnic groups.  I think we have more work to do to support, for example, people living with disabilities and I want to ensure this too is on agendas. There is, however, a lot more work to be done in this space and I remain optimistic that change will occur. I would love to see more women in leadership roles in Insolvency and Restructuring, at Board level in Business, Financial Institutions, and VC firms.

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