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by Lauren Croft - July 20, 2024

Legal employers must ‘work smarter and capitalise’ on women’s talent

Since getting her first role in the mid-’90s, this legal people and culture manager has seen massive growth within the profession — but said organisations still have more to do to advance women to leadership roles.

Jessica Lancashire is the executive manager of people and culture at Legalsuper. Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, she discussed inequality in workplaces and how, post-pandemic, female lawyers can rise through the ranks and add value.

Ms Lancashire started her career in human resources in the mid-’90s and has since worked in a number of male-heavy organisations and industries.

“One of my first roles was heading down to a manufacturing plant in Adelaide and doing some general HR policy and procedure compliance training and walking out to the shop floor and into the locker room and nudie pictures being everywhere and those sorts of things,” she said.

“There was just really, in terms of equality and understanding, the ideas around what that meant was definitely not something. We were still coming out of the ’80s and really trying to understand these issues. Just on that side was very interesting. The conversation has definitely changed a lot over the 20 years for the better, of course, as people have come out from places that potentially they were hiding.”

And in terms of the advancement of diversity and inclusion within legal services workplaces, Ms Lancashire said there’s a lot going on right now.

“There’s so much in diversity and inclusion. I’ve probably got a greater focus on the women’s side at the moment, but obviously, there’s so much more, and gender, in general at the moment, is such a broad topic. But certainly, it’s changed especially with the Respect@Work Act that’s looking at coming through legislation and that focuses on pay equality and all those sorts of issues that are actually being legalised now. Unfortunately, they do need to be legalised, but they are being legalised. I think it shows, and the transparency that they’re demanding of employers and so forth has created a lot of change,” she added.

“There’s still some way to go, and I think it’s an interesting space, and it’s going to continue to change and evolve as we do. And it’s always that challenge of equality and the best person for the job, but how we define that moving forward is going to be quite interesting. For me, I think for the workplace, it’s really something that’s embedded in our culture. For us, it’s respect for everyone regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they believe, and certainly in terms of gender, maintaining that respect regardless of those things. But yeah, there’s been a lot of massive change.”

With this massive change, employers now have a chance to “capitalise” on diversity and inclusion because research shows that women are worth investing in.

“In terms of leadership and the way they lead, again, the research and the data show that it is the most attractive leadership style, using emotional intelligence, their social skills, humility, self-awareness and those sorts, which are making a generalisation. Women [have] got those opportunities. I think with the state of the nation being post-COVID and potential recession is that employees need to think about working smarter. Using the competent people that they do have the best way that they can and ensuring that they do allow for flexibility and really mindful,” Ms Lancashire added.

“If women are having a big impact on the bottom line, generally speaking, then they’re a big part of a business. There’s a real opportunity for businesses to work smarter and really capitalise on their great talent, which depending on the role and the job, the women have an enormous amount to offer.”

For female lawyers looking to take a step up and assert themselves more in their legal workplace, Ms Lancashire said looking after one’s wellness was of the utmost importance, as well as using those soft and EQ skills “that may come more naturally to females”.

“It’s about using that to their advantage and actually bringing that to the fore to say how important they are. We don’t need to be more aggressive or necessarily those sorts of levers, but use the levers that we have naturally and be able to put our hand up for things when there are different committees or different things going on. There’s a real opportunity to show some of those things off and get involved. There are lots of, obviously depending on the workplace, different things, what that may look like,” she explained.

“But even I just think, and from a mentoring perspective, getting people around you to support that growth. But number one, you got to know where you want to go. I mean, you might not want to go; maybe you’re happy where you are, that’s OK, too. But I guess in terms of if there feels like there’s not that diversity or you’re not going where you want to go, really getting some people around firstly, making sure you’ve got a clear goal on where you want to go and then getting the support around you to help make that happen.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Jessica Lancashire, click below:

This article originally featured in Lawyer's Weekly