Championing diversity and inclusion in law
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we spoke to Clare Belcher, Group General Counsel at Equiom on the notable progress of women in law to celebrate and what still needs to be addressed to continue championing for equity and an inclusive legal profession.
Clare shares her views on the importance of role models, sharing lived experience and challenging perception as well as the critical role of encouraging and supporting more female leaders in law to ensure that a career in the legal profession is one that the next generation continues to aspire to.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am Group General Counsel and member of the Executive Management team at Equiom, responsible for the global in-house legal and governance function. Equiom is an international service provider offering a range of market leading private wealth, professional services and fund governance solutions for businesses and individuals.
I chose to study law at university after some work experience at a criminal solicitor’s firm whilst studying for my GCSEs. Whilst studying law at university, I became more interested in commercial and business law and so trained at a City law firm and qualified in Corporate Finance/Mergers & Acquisitions.
Thinking about the progress of women in law, what do you feel have been the biggest strides taken?
I moved in-house from law firm private practice at 5 years PQE as I couldn’t see any female role models who successfully balanced their family and work.
I have worked part-time and/or flexible office hours in my in-house roles since 2011. Back then it was a struggle to be accepted as someone who wanted the flexibility to be actively involved in raising my children but who also wanted to achieve an executive level career. It was (and still is!) a personal struggle to deliver both roles simultaneously and I constantly need to remind myself from a mental health perspective that delivering one or the other at less than 100% is ok.
I have been lucky to have the support of some fantastic male leaders during my career journey who have cared more about the value I could add than the office hours I worked. This is something I have tried to emulate as a leader and have actively encouraged my team to take up paid parental leave policies and not to rule themselves out of opportunities because of the way they want to deliver their role. The pandemic has accelerated attitudes to flexible working, and I hope this continues for all men and women whatever their reasons for wanting to do so.
At Equiom, I have found my spiritual home in an environment supported from the top by our CEO and Executive Team where all employees have the option to choose their own working patterns so they can better manage their work and home lives and a policy of unlimited annual leave. I no longer need to feel guilty about flexing my work hours around my family or personal commitments and have the freedom to deliver my role my way.
“I have been lucky to have the support of some fantastic male leaders during my career journey who have cared more about the value I could add than the office hours I worked.”
What are the key barriers that still need to be addressed to achieve equity for women, and an inclusive legal profession?
There are still too few women at senior executive level in the legal profession, both in private practice and in-house. More visible role models are needed as well as transparent and unbiased hiring and promotion processes. Individual coaching support around maternity transition is also crucial.
We need to continue to challenge society’s perception that women should do more at home and with children than men. I have faced just as much challenge from those outside the legal profession (and outside the school gates) judging my ability to deliver a demanding executive role whilst having a family as from within it.
As a comprehensive school attendee with no family members in the legal profession, I have often felt out of my comfort zone surrounded by my private school peers, at university, working in the City, and at the executive table. The work that the 93% Club are doing around social mobility is truly inspirational and I wish this support had been around when I was at school and university. Both the SRA and many law firms are now widening access to the profession and the greater diversity this will bring will be for the benefit of all.
“We need to continue to challenge society’s perception that women should do more at home and with children than men.”
How can lawyers practically, both male and female, champion change around inclusivity and diversity?
The best way to champion inclusivity and diversity is to live it and shout about it. I encourage all leaders to be visible and honest about their struggles during their career journey and to be open and proud about the things that make them different from others.
Sponsorship, mentorship, and reverse mentoring can all really help in our understanding and acceptance of each other and make the difference in an individual’s career success. I try and actively support those who are different to me in their legal career paths.
I really value the creativity and energy a diverse team can bring. I always try to recruit people with different attributes, backgrounds, and skills – acknowledging that this can often make my life as a manager more difficult to bring those different people together – but in my experience it always produces better collective results.
“I encourage all leaders to be visible and honest about their struggles during their career journey and to be open and proud about the things that make them different from others.”
What are your hopes for the future of the legal profession?
I hope that the legal profession can continue to evolve in the way it embraces inclusivity, equity, and diversity so it can truly harness the value this can bring to both legal service providers and their clients.
Women in leadership in the legal profession have an obligation to inspire future generations of women to want to join it, thrive in it and lead it. In the words of the late Madeleine Albright: “there is a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women”.
“Women in leadership in the legal profession have an obligation to inspire future generations of women to want to join it, thrive in it and lead it.”