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A View from In-House: "A War on Attrition"

by Jenifer Swallow, General Counsel, TransferWise


This is the first in a series of blogs from general counsel and senior in-house lawyers as part of our Apollo Leadership Institute.




The opening panel at last week’s 2019 Women in Law Summit focused on the war on attrition – the fact that more women than ever are entering the profession of law, and yet that is still not reflected at the senior and leadership levels. The same holds true for BAME, LGBT+, people of different abilities, and beyond.


The profession needs a broad representation of humanity at all levels. So what is standing in the way and how do we shift it?


This problem was workshopped by our panel:

Jenifer Swallow, General Counsel, Transferwise;

Miriam Gonzalez, International Trade Lawyer, Cohen & Gresser; Vice Chair of Board, UBS; Founder, Inspiring Girls;

Emma Slatter, Chief Officer, Legal, Regulatory, and Compliance, Visa Europe; and

Kizzy Augustin, Partner, Russell-Cooke Solicitors, who served as our awesome Chair.


Here are some of the grounding points that came through.


Disruption is coming

There is a movement happening on equality. Can you feel it? The IFS Deaton Review will further fuel the momentum. Organisations (and people) that do not keep up will be left behind.


Transparency massively helps

Once you have the (true) data you can’t hide from what needs to change. This has been shown with gender pay gap reporting. Organisations have to admit where they are at, both to themselves and to the world. And they will be judged accordingly – by candidates, by staff, by customers, by investors, by suppliers/partners. They have to think about the data and present it, and it is hard to do that without considering the why and how to improve it. So let’s keep asking for the data and engage with it. Hold organisations to account.


The business model matters

In-house environments are evolving much faster than law firms on gender equality at senior levels. Professional services environments based on billing for time spent, with an exclusive group of beneficiaries at the top, is a root cause barrier. Focusing on inputs instead of outputs, or selling time instead of impact, will always skew behaviour in a negative direction.

Purpose is the future

Increasingly, we will align around ‘purpose’ and be trusted to work to flexibly without that being a big deal. More and more, we see people wanting to work to make a positive contribution to the world, not just for a salary. And we see people wanting their work schedule to be less gruelling and more congruent with their wider lives. We can each figure out what works for us in this and be confident in building that in with our employers. This is how we normalise change.


We each have power

There are practical things we can all do. As leaders, take risks on people and support them. Advocate for people. Think outside the box on hiring. Ask questions; call things out; coach people if they don’t get it. If we are in-house, make D&I standards a pre-requisite for law firms to get work. And personally, know our strengths and put ourselves forward, unapologetically. Do a bit of personal PR. Consider what might be holding us back so we can move that out of the way. One example was financial security – do we hold back because we don’t want to lose our jobs and if so, what steps could we take to change that?


The next generation

The way we engage and behave and talk with the next generation makes a massive difference. If they think (know) they can, then they will, whether in law or otherwise. What are we each doing on this, as role models?


It’s about all of us

Re-balancing society needs to work for all of us. For change to be enduring, we cannot have the pendulum swinging back and fore in resentment. Women, men… all groups must be considered, have a voice and equal respect and opportunity.


Are we each playing a role in making this shift a reality? What are we going to do differently today, tomorrow or in the coming weeks to help us move towards meritocracy?




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