The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was #breakthebias. The focus was on establishing “a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination”.
When I began studying law at the University of Aberdeen in 2006, the majority of my class were female, but when it came to applying for jobs, the vast majority of partners in the profession and of people in power were men. The imbalance was clear.
Throughout my years of studying, I encountered many different personalities. Some urged women to behave more like men in order to “get on”; others encouraged individuality and consideration of what you brought to the table outwith the confines of gender.
The conversation around how far women have come, and what more needs to be done to move towards true equality, cannot be confined to International Women’s Day. We need to make sure it continues past 8 March each year.
RTA Law LLP has always been led by women. Brenda Mitchell, senior partner, started the business in 2011 and I was promoted to partner in 2018. We are a niche personal injury practice representing vulnerable road users who have been injured. We are also unusual in being a female led firm. That is a rather depressing statement to make in 2022, but I am thrilled to be part of breaking the bias.
Being a small team, we want to encourage individuality and promote people’s strengths, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. We all bring something different, and if you place everyone in a box stating what they ought to be able to achieve, you will never see or be able to develop someone’s full potential.
In 2022 and beyond, I would love to see more women actively encouraged to “break the bias”, and for negative terminology around strong women in leading roles no longer to be deemed acceptable. Words such as “feisty”, “fierce” and “bossy” are all too often applied to paint successful women in a negative light.
Other small changes can be made to everyday practice. Every hour I will receive an email addressed “Dear Sirs”. These come from insurance companies, other solicitors and the courts. That practice in itself is a bias, assuming that law firms must be run by men and therefore all correspondence should be so addressed.
At RTA Law, we seek to address the individual we are emailing by their name. This removes the need to address by gender and thereby make subconscious bias assumptions. Where a generic email address is provided, we simply address all correspondence using the company name.
Such changes should not be seen as “groundbreaking” or “forward thinking”. In 2022 your gender should not define you or your role within a company. It is one thing to support IWD each year, but more needs to be done to change daily processes to bring about actual change.
We all must work together to push for true equality in the workplace and for it to be commonplace to have law firms led by women. There is no set paved route to follow; simply we must all do more to halt the impact of unconscious bias and focus on individuals’ strengths and qualities.
As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Jodi Gordon, partner, Road Traffic Accident Law (Scotland) LLP