Appleby Isle of Man Partner, Faye Moffett, a leading banking and finance practitioner and local group head of the Corporate and Commercial Practice Group, addressed an audience of more than 80 guests at a breakfast organised by Barclays Wealth and Investment Management to mark International Women’s Day. The theme of the global celebration, on March 8, was ‘inspiring change’. Here are some excerpts from Faye’s contribution:
‘As the theme for International Women’s Day is inspiring change, I was asked to focus on what had inspired me in my career and the challenges I have faced. I have to say this is a daunting prospect; however, it has made me reflect on why I decided to pursue a career in law.
‘As regards influencing my career choice, I would love to point to some notable event or person, but I think like a lot of people of my generation, the U.S. TV shows of L.A. Law and Ally McBeal probably had more to do with it. And so it was in 1997 that I was called to the Manx Bar - ready to stand up for the underdog, free the innocent and fight for justice.
‘And at seven days qualification my chance came to represent an individual charged with the possession of cannabis.
‘The scene was Castletown Court House and for those of you who do not know, previously the Court room was housed in the Castle, so I had the slightly surreal experience of walking through statues of marauding Vikings and waiting for my appearance in the castle gift shop.
‘Now they drum into you at Law School that, as the junior lawyer, you sit at the back of the advocates’ benches and the senior lawyers sit at the front nearest to the judge. So, as a newly minted advocate I dutifully sat on the very back-bench awaiting my big moment. I then had a tap on the shoulder from another advocate who kindly said to me, “Faye, you’re sitting in the dock.” Not the most illustrious of starts, but after a year of practising matrimonial and criminal law, I decided to move into the area of corporate and commercial law and, in particular, to focus on banking and asset finance.
‘I was appointed head of the corporate department at the beginning of February. My practice covers ship and aircraft financing, insolvency and banking work dealing with BVI and Isle of Man law. My role is extremely varied; I am responsible for the profitability and running of the corporate practice in the Isle of Man and managing a staff of 30. This is challenging role, but it is also thoroughly enjoyable, and yes that female attribute of multi-tasking does come in useful. At the weekend I did ask my son what he thought I did in the office and he said “you print off paper and chat to your friends”. You can always trust a five-year-old to bring you down to earth with a bump.
‘My progression has involved a lot of hard work and long hours, but I think it would be fair to say that in my view my progression has been without barriers, be they in relation to my gender or sexuality.
‘When I was asked to talk about this I did question whether events of this type are still necessary in this day and age.
Women have come so far in so many professions, however the fact that it is still notable that a woman is heading up the Corporate Department of the largest firm on the Isle of Man, speaks volumes.
‘It is important though to look at how far women have come in terms of the legal profession.
‘The first female advocate, Claire Faulds, was called to the Bar in 1973 and the first female president of the Law Society, Sharon Roberts, was elected in 1997.
‘Both Sharon Roberts and Claire Faulds have both gone on to act as deputy Deemsters. Her Worship Jayne Hughes was appointed as Deputy High Bailiff in 2011, the first fulltime judicial appointment of a woman in the Isle of Man. These women could truly be said to have smashed through the glass ceiling. I am in no doubt that many of you here today in your respective professions will have done the same.
‘Perhaps that is why those of us of my generation have probably not felt that there have been any barriers to advancement.
‘I am proud that in my firm we have a female chairwoman, the head of our global fiduciary business is a woman, and the head of our Bermuda Office is a woman.
‘This is all very positive. In the profession as a whole over 50 per cent of new entrants are women.
However, when it comes to partnership at the top 100 UK law firms that figure drops to 23 per cent and when it comes to equity ownership of law firms, this drops to nine per cent.
‘I have no reason to believe that the position in the Isle of Man is any better.
‘This has led me to reflect on why this is the case, why is it that women are not reaching the top of the profession? Taking the view that women self-select themselves out of these positions is too simplistic.
‘I think, like most women, when the role of Corporate & Commercial Head became available, I could have given you a dozen reasons why I couldn’t do the job.
‘Focusing on what you can bring to the table, rather than perceived weaknesses is difficult. I was reminded that only a year before a very able and talented associate was going before one of our promotion boards and she was contemplating postponing her application. Of the criteria for promotion she was focussing on the one area where, in her mind, she could have done more. Her inclination was to postpone the promotion board for a year, rather than risk failing in her bid for promotion. We talked about it and I persuaded her to go forward and pointed out that this probably wasn’t the approach that one of her male colleagues would have taken. She got her promotion which was well deserved, despite her own reservations.
‘Women must be prepared to put themselves forward for promotion, to step out of their comfort zones and risk failing. Do not expect to be anointed – you have to take opportunities and dare I say it, be seen as ambitious.
‘There is a survey done in the UK every year which focuses on the up and coming lawyers who are gaining a reputation in their respective fields. In 2013 almost 50 per cent of those highlighted were women. However, interestingly, the editor noted that of the 46 women mentioned in the survey none had put themselves forward, this was not the case for the men, many of whom had submitted their own profiles.
‘I think that the lesson here is, do not expect to be plucked from obscurity – this is not how the game works. To those in a leadership positions modesty can come across as diffidence.
‘There is another real issue in terms of progression and it is one that all parents grapple with. As the mother of a two-year-old and five-year-old the tension between pursuing a career and being a parent is very real. There is no denying that law, and, for that matter, all careers at a senior level are time-intensive. 60 to70 hour weeks are not unusual, time away from home on business travel and unexpected client demands all have their challenges. Having the back-up at home to allow you to deal with these situations is absolutely critical.
‘There will be days where you have to take a day off because a child is sick, are women judged more harshly for this? Probably.
‘We all have to find a position we are comfortable with and can live with. I am lucky in that after we had our second child my partner decided to stay at home, but this involved a lot of soul searching on both of our parts.
‘For some this just isn’t an option or a choice they wish to make and I accept this, but women must be prepared to have honest conversations and negotiations with their other halves over how childcare will be managed in a way that can accommodate both parents’ ambitions, whatever they may be.
‘Why is the lack of women reaching senior positions an issue? The loss of women at senior positions, not only in law, but in all businesses, does not make commercial sense. Recent research has shown that only 7 per cent of FTSE 100 executive board members are women.
‘We need to put in place mentoring and coaching to encourage women into senior positions, to stem this loss of talent.
‘Organisations need to promote and value a diverse workforce at all levels because the business environment is always changing.
‘The most successful organisations can anticipate future changes as their workforce reflects the clients and future clients they serve.
‘Diversity in all its forms is particularly important amongst a firm’s leadership as it is they who will set an organisation’s agenda and strategy.
‘In our organisation I head up our equity partner readiness programme. We have developed a programme where we select candidates who we see as having the potential to reach equity partnership and vet them at the end of the process.
‘When I was originally asked to lead this my first reaction was to question whether they would be better having a grey haired bloke head this up. I was told in no uncertain terms this was not the intention.
‘By having a woman front and centre in the development and selection of equity candidates is a first step towards changing the culture and make-up of an organisation.
‘It is also worth reflecting that in some countries they are still at the beginning of this journey.
‘In Saudi Arabia, the first three female lawyers were licensed earlier this year. In some countries young girls are put in harm’s way for the mere fact of pursuing an education. No, the challenges that we face here are not on the same level, but we should take time on occasion to reflect on where we are and what is left to do.
‘Barclays should be applauded for promoting and sponsoring these types of events; they are important and make us pause and take stock.
‘And finally, returning to my first experience in court, I think it is essential that women stop assuming that their place is on the back benches.
‘We should step up and take the floor and demonstrate why we are as able and dynamic as our male counterparts.’