International Women's Day and the significance of gender equality in the workplace

05 March 2020

As the world uses International Women’s Day to highlight the significance of gender equality in the workplace, Wilkin Chapman’s Head of the Family department and our first female Partner Lisa Boileau tells of her experiences over the last two decades.

“When I was training to become a solicitor, I was invited to a business dinner. I walked in the room of approximately 200 people and counted eight women, including myself in the room. Now, I walk into a room and I don’t give it a second thought. I have no need to count!

I was the first ever woman in Wilkin Chapman to be made a Partner. From very early on in my legal career, this had been my ambition and it was achieved at the age of 30, it was my proudest moment.

It had taken 100 years for a woman to be made a Partner in the firm and that was very much a reflection of the legal profession generally, not just Wilkin Chapman. When you look at how many women we have in our business and in our boardroom today, you can see how far we have come in this relatively short time span of 20 years.

Breaking the glass ceiling

It was, and remains, the career achievement of which I am most proud. To break, what at the time, was a glass ceiling and to do so in our centenary year as a firm was very poignant for me.

One of my first important tasks, upon becoming a Partner, was to help formulate the maternity rights and pay for female Partners. There were none in the partnership agreement because or course they’d never had a woman as a Partner before!

I felt the burden of that responsibility at the time, because I knew that it was important that we got it right – not for myself, but for the women who were to follow me. In fact, I needn’t have worried as the firm has always looked after its people, and on this topic, it was no different. Claire Parker, and other talented women, followed quickly to join me into the boardroom.

Law profession leading the way

As a profession, more women than men are entering the legal profession today and that statistic interests me. Law can be a challenging, rewarding and flexible career for anyone. Why we are now attracting more women than men, I don’t know.

I am lucky, I don’t have to think about being ‘a woman in the workplace’, my workplace is a well-balanced, supportive and happy environment. Gender doesn’t come into it. If you're good at your job, you get the job. Your gender is irrelevant- which is how it should be. Gender equality isn’t an issue in my day to day life, I earn the same as my male counterpart, I do the same job as him, nor do I see the world as male vs female.

Trailblazer for gender equality

I do believe, however, that young women need strong and positive role models, both male and female and I suspect the legal profession is a trailblazer for gender equality. From speaking to friends in various other careers I realise there is still a huge amount of work to be done to see a fairer balance in the boardroom and in the workforce. In professional sport for example, there are only a limited number of women in high profile roles.

I feel blessed not to have to give such issues a thought in my day-to-day life. Twenty years ago, the world was very different, and it is wonderful to see how much can change in one generation.

That glass ceiling feels like it was a lifetime ago now! It may have taken the firm 100 years to make me the first female partner, but my goodness, it hasn’t rested on its laurels since. When change came, it came quickly, and I am very proud of what we have achieved since then.


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