We sat down with partner Emma Ager, to discuss the Gender Equality at Clyde & Co network (GECCO). As a founder of the network, she shares their greatest achievements and the challenges they’ve faced, as well as the sorts of activities a trainee joining the firm could get involved in.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Clyde & Co
I’ve been at Clyde & Co for 16 years, I joined on qualification after doing my training contract at Richards Butler and became a partner around 5 years ago. I work primarily in insurance, predominately for Bermuda insurance companies who write risks on the Bermuda Form. I became a partner the same year I found out I was pregnant with my son – which was an interesting experience! – and then I had my second son two years ago. As things panned out, I ended up in the Supreme Court with him in tow when he was six weeks old!
What is the GECCO network and how did you get involved?
I was a part of the set-up of the forerunner to GECCO. We created forums for different groups within the firm to start with. We then took reps from each forum and created the committee for GECCO. We have committee meetings once a month (which we’ve continued virtually through lockdown). The network is open to everyone – it focuses on gender equality and bringing together people across the firm who share a passion for equality. It provides a forum for sharing views, opinions and identifying issues where we can try and drive change and lobby for progress.
What sorts of activities could a member of the network get involved with?
It’s quite varied and it depends largely on the input we get from the members and what they’d like to see being done in the firm. Annual events for us include International Women’s Day and International Men’s Day.
We also work on research into ongoing gender equality issues and feed this back into the firm – for example, we looked into maternity policies across the legal industry using our connections to other law firms. Another area we looked into was salutations – effectively, how we address people in letters, emails, etc. Should we be using ‘Dear Sir or Madam’? Should we be using ‘Dear colleagues’? And so on. A couple of members of the committee took charge of this, did some research and produced a paper for the firm. We have also been involved in shaping policies at the firm, such as the agile working policy (which has become even more important during Covid), and policies in relation to key issues that affect our members such as fertility, miscarriage and menopause.
We did quite a lot in 2019 in relation to the 100 Years Project, celebrating 100 years of women being admitted to the legal profession. We partnered with the 100 Years Project and hosted and sponsored a number of their events in addition to hosting our own.
In our monthly meetings, we share updates on the projects we’re working on or the events we’re looking to organise, and we also use it as a forum to feed back into the firm about any developments around the broader D&I agenda and strategy for Clyde & Co.
What would you say are GECCO’s biggest achievements?
I think our IWD campaigns have been particularly successful. We focus a lot on highlighting role models and this year we produced a series of films of some of our senior women from around the firm sharing their thoughts on this year’s theme, plus panel events in different offices. That was really impactful.
The key thing from my perspective is being able to push the agenda on gender equality, and being able to do it in a way that allows our people to contribute to it. For the last couple of years, we’ve been running small group sessions where senior associates and legal directors get to meet female partners on a really intimate basis. Here they can ask about progression and partnership, and anything they might not want to ask in a big group setting.
The sessions have been really successful and we’ve now expanded this scheme out to associates, who sit down with senior associates, legal directors and partners. This also supports women in the firm to build their professional networks and enables us to encourage the use of mentors.
What are some of the challenges the GECCO network faces?
We’re very much focused on gender equality at Clyde & Co – GECCO isn’t a women’s network – but one of our challenges is getting male members of the firm involved. To tackle this, we look into issues that affect men as well as women, so for example shared parental leave policies, which we try to encourage more men to take up. At our panel events, we make sure there is gender diversity being represented. At the moment, we’re doing a series on ‘demystifying partnership’, so we have both men and women speaking at these events, men with young children as well, so we get a broad perspective on what it’s like to be a partner and also juggle parenthood and family life.
An issue that’s come up recently, and for the legal profession as a whole, is around the impact of the pandemic on associates’ career ambitions, particularly for female associates and parents. One of our network members raised this as an agenda point, and so we designed the ‘demystifying partnership’ series to try and deal with this. The aim is to increase transparency around the process involved in becoming a partner and share real life experiences of partners at the firm. There has been a particular focus on juggling being a partner with being a parent, and we had a record attendance for the most recent event with over 200 attendees.
What else should members know about the GECCO network?
The network has a lot of female support at partner level and above, and a really supportive management team, which is great. A big piece of what we do is around educating the firm on different gender related topics, which we do through our events and the communications we send out, which I think is important.
We also link in with the mentoring side of things, encouraging people to take up the opportunity to be mentees and mentors, plus reverse mentoring to try and get flow going both ways between different levels at the firm.
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