IWD 2021: What a difference a year makes

Posted by Sarah Keegan, co-founder of Legal Futures Associate The CS Partnership

I spend a fairly large portion of my days discussing the fact that the world is changing and looking at how the changes are manifesting.

It is one of the subject areas that I get excited and passionate about, albeit usually because I am talking to lawyers about helping them change the way they deliver their services.

However, even I am amazed at how much things have changed this past year. For International Women’s Day 2020, I decided to write about some of my experiences as a woman in a legal practice and as a businesswoman. Reviewing that blog with International Women’s Day 2021 in mind, made me pause to look at the changes.

Within two weeks of last year’s blog, we were in our first national lockdown. Suddenly we were all working from home, worrying about how the pandemic would affect our businesses and therefore our financial stability, and learning how to use technology we may never really have used before.

Against that background, we were scared for the health of the people we love, and mundane tasks like food shopping morphed (at least in my case) into shopping for three generations of what I can only describe as ungrateful and overly specific rotters, given how hard I was trying and how little was on the shelves (“These aren’t the kind of tissues/bell peppers/flour/pasta/crisps we USUALLY get” was a critical sentence I heard too many times).

This is not a political blog, just a commentary about the way the behaviours of the people closest to me (physically and over the internet) have changed towards each other and the planet.

As we went on our daily walks, there were rainbows in every other window. We clapped in support of key workers. We cheered Captain Sir Tom Moore. Kindness, and checking in on each other became more normal, and is hopefully here to stay.

Today’s Conveyancer has recently launched a ‘Call for kindness’ campaign, reminding people coping under huge amounts of pressure in the conveyancing sector to be kind and calm to each other during transactions, and I do not think that would have been something its audience would have condoned, even in 2019.

As the lockdowns continued, we cleared out cupboards and drawers too, and seemed to really notice at how much ‘stuff’ we had that we just do not need.

I cannot bring myself to buy plastic that will end up in the sea if I can possibly help it anymore. I want to buy things from brands that are honest, care about their customers and believe in sustainability and partnerships.

We now really embrace celebrate every holiday or birthday (or even the opening of an Amazon delivery) in much more detail and with much more oomph than we used to.

We exited the EU. We watched Trump lie (was it just me that was obsessed watching untruths and the events that unfolded?), and videos of racism that affected us and prompted conversations about how we had to change our behaviours.

In a year of firsts, Kamala Harris, a lawyer, became America’s vice-president and the first woman of colour to serve in that elected position, and Jill Biden will make history for working women, by continuing to work outside the White House.

I can joke about the hideous grocery shopping trips now, but collectively we have been through an incredible year. And of course, it has really shifted our attitudes and behaviours in how we work.

We have new partnerships in place which are blossoming. I see people’s animals and children on video meetings, and I wave at the end of most meetings. I think law firms would have taken years to accept that people can work well from home, and yet all of the law firms I speak to acknowledge that productivity has increased, not decreased.

I do not want to stay inside for ever, but I also do not want to waste time that doesn’t need to be wasted on driving up and down the country, when we have seen that we can all get more done from our desks because something has morphed. We now have a work/life integration, where we used to aim for work/life balance.

A child of the 60s/70s and even the 80s would have been the first generations of women who could enter the workplace as equals – except that we weren’t equals, we hit a time of the ‘sexism hangover’.

We had to work harder than our male counterparts in order to be treated as equal – and we all know women who behaved and behave in a more masculine way than their male colleagues.

The shock and fear of everything I have described this past year, and our reactions of becoming more discerning about waste, taking time to be more responsible as individuals towards each other, and my reading of last year’s blog has made me realise that I do not want to aim for equality.

It feels like that phrase is akin to aiming for the work/life balance that alluded us all for years too.

I do not want to be known as a businesswoman – or a female legal engineer, or really to belong to women-only business groups because none of those should be necessary. I cannot stop the feeling that things like the women-only groups actually serve to prolong the divide between the sexes that they are trying to overcome.

I strongly believe we should stand against sexism/racism/ageism – in fact, the only ‘ism’ I like is hedonism!

I do more than write those words – I put my action where my mouth is in this regard. I have been helping an international female organisation consider how to modernise for the past three years, and if the members vote positively for the proposals that have been put in front of them this month, The CS Partnership will help them bring a modern version of itself to market.

But my new version of wanting to be part of the change is to want integration with all. Not to strive for equality but to just be it.

In 2010, the Dalai Lama said: “The world will be changed by the Western woman.” I am all for leading the change.


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