In a century of celebrating International Women’s Day, we’ve overcome a lot of challenges, but we still have more to achieve.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated annually on March 8. It’s been marked since the early 1900s when, during what was a period of extraordinary social change in the industrialised world, women began building a global movement to call for their right to vote, to work, to be represented in parliament, and for stronger voices within their homes.
Today, more than a century later, while it is a long and often winding road, there is much to celebrate. And collectively, it is these and other great women (here’s looking at you, VP Harris!) whose successes we can all celebrate proudly this year.
#ChooseToChallenge – seeking out and celebrating women’s achievements
This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge which resonates strongly with me. Five years ago, after 20 years as a corporate and in-house lawyer across two continents, I made the difficult decision to walk away from Big Law. With its ingrained inequality and rigid system of gladiatorial hyper-competitiveness, I knew there had to be a better way.
So I bootstrapped the launch of my own ‘dream firm’, Peripheral Blue (PB), removing all of the metrics which fostered the toxicity of traditional firms, and built my model out from there.
At PB, I have actively fostered a culture and environment of flexibility and both professional and personal mentoring and support, in which all staff are given equal access to the tools they need; to succeed and provide the exceptional service levels our clients deserve.
Internally, our predominantly female team is both supported and supportive. We strive consistently to lift one another up, focusing on collaboration over competition. As an employer, I try to lead by example and am continuously looking for ways to celebrate and promote the achievements of our team.
Balance – making it happen
I always loved being a lawyer; for that, I’m eternally grateful. In fact, my lifelong passion for service through law is what kept me going for many years regardless of the challenging environments I was working in.
But I finally reached a turning point in my career (and life) at which I no longer accepted that the traditional legal model was the only way forward or, that I would have to live the rest of my working life beholden to the cut-throat strictures of big-law. I chose to consciously ‘unbundle’ my life in order to actively rebuild the life – and legal practice – I’d always dreamt of. I saw clearly that doing this would benefit not just myself, but my clients and colleagues and, by extension, our industry.
‘Choosing to challenge’ would cause a ripple effect that would positively impact everyone in each of their lives, and so on.
I knew I had the core skills, the network, and the support structures in place in order to achieve it. But it didn’t just ‘happen’ – I made it so. And that started with finding the strength and courage to walk away from the career I’d spent two decades building, then backing myself and my abilities sufficiently in order to achieve it.
The result? Taking control of this process has already led to many positive changes; not just for myself and my clients but for our whole team. PB’s flexible workplace model has meant that employment and achievement is open to all team members who have the talent and drive to succeed. It enables them to provide a high quality, responsive service from wherever (and whenever) they need to.
Staff are empowered to choose the matters they work on and the hours they spend working on them. Our model fosters inclusivity, with team members always on an equal playing field regardless of gender, and in the drivers’ seats of their own work/life balance.
Working together to create an inclusive world
I am cognisant that, growing up in Australia, I have had the additional benefit of a first-class education throughout my life. While it took courage to believe that I could rewrite my professional life on my own terms, I needed support. I openly acknowledge that not every woman is as fortunate, and it’s for this reason it’s vital we keep the momentum going.
In law, the challenge is less about achieving equality in the form of gender-driven promotions or head-counts, than it is about striving for equity.
My vision is of a commercial landscape where people have access to the same opportunities regardless of gender from the outset and who are then supported in striving to achieve their goals by those around them – at home and at work. Of course, this means flexibility, especially for women, as very often they are still shouldering more of the carer duties in and around their homes than men.
Backing yourself against the odds
As a woman (and mother of three young children) operating in a highly demanding industry, I’ve grown a successful business against the odds. So IWD for me is an important expression of gratitude for all the work that’s been done by those who’ve challenged the status quo before me. It’s also a public acknowledgement of the need for us to continue to support and champion each other, both personally and professionally, as we move forward.
Back yourself. If you’re an employee, demand what you need to make all the changes necessary to create the work-life blend you dream of. If you’re an employer, don’t be afraid to offer it. And lead by example.
At PB, we firmly believe that when our team members are supported to lead balanced lives, they have the drive to give of themselves 100% while they’re at work. This means our clients receive nothing less than the award-winning services levels we set out to deliver, and our families, communities, the economy, and society all reap the benefits.
In the words of the brilliant and inspiring female leader, Michelle Obama, “the difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued.”
Mellissa Larkin is the Founder and Managing Director of Adelaide-based law firm Peripheral Blue.