International Women's Day 2021 - Sacco Mann Talks To... Sarah-Walker Smith @ Shakespeare Martineau

5 Minutes

Amy Haycocks talks to Sarah Walker-Smith, CEO of Shakespeare Martineau about Women In Law an...

Amy Haycocks talks to Sarah Walker-Smith, CEO of Shakespeare Martineau about Women In Law and the affects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Women In Work. Sarah is the first Female, Non-Lawyer CEO in the Legal Top 50. 

Statistics show that women have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic whether that be by being more likely to have been made redundant / on furlough or taking the lead with home-schooling whilst juggling work, whilst other statistics show that increased working from home and flexibility will allow for positive steps forward for Women in work. Now as we start making steps to move out of lockdown and towards ‘normality’, what do you think the lasting effects from the pandemic will be for Women in Law?

A lot of things will change for good – and I mean that in the permanent and better sense. It’s our responsibility as leaders to retain a diverse workforce – it’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s the commercial thing to do, and I think the pandemic has shown that we can be flexible – and at pace! Our clients have been sharing in the same struggles as our people and there is much more empathy in the business community now, which I think will stick when lockdown restrictions ease.

Sarah looks to challenge the norm in the legal sector and wider business world. She is passionate about levelling the playing field, encouraging everyone to bring their authentic selves to work.

Reflecting on the last 12 months, what have been the biggest challenges for you personally and what are the positives you would like to keep and take forward?

For a variety of reasons, I had six months of near isolation whilst shielding last year. First time living alone in my life and away from my husband and children. I won’t deny that was tough and allowed me too much headspace to reflect on who I really was and why I was here. Heavy stuff! Equally with the family back home fighting for Wi-Fi and seeing their trials and tribulations first hand whilst in the midst of what feels like an endless winter lockdown, I even look back on Lockdown 1 with some levels of nostalgia! 
It’s absolutely taught me that the grass isn’t always greener and not to compare ourselves to anyone else; nor feel guilty for struggling with our own situation which may in comparison seem trivial compared to others’. We have all fought and are fighting our own pandemic and have needed to come to terms with that in our own way. No rights or wrongs. 
I am committed to see this as a unique time of personal learning and growth and try and use it as a positive legacy… but equally at times I’ve not wanted to come out from under the duvet! The other positives I want to take forward are Power Of Connection and Kindness; and that this isn’t at odds with being ambitious and commercial. How quickly and effectively human beings can solve problems when they unite against a common and urgent threat; how do we bottle that?  That doing the right thing is remarkably easy. And being yourself works.

What piece of advice do you wish you could go back and give to yourself at the beginning of 2020?

Trust your instincts, and ride the wave. There are going to be good days and bad days. Just do you best, stay focused on doing the right thing and don’t sweat the small stuff.

As many firms are revaluating working environments, flexible working policies and benefits packages to ensure they’re relevant post-pandemic. What things do you feel make the biggest impact for Women in the workplace?

As leaders we should be providing our people with the right tools to do their job, as well as creating a strong, open and fair working culture where we trust people to do the right thing. Trust builds empowerment and empowerment drives creativity, innovation and positivity.

What is the thing you are most looking forward to doing once we’re finally in the ‘new normal’?

It being different to the old one! We must use the opportunities this horrible pandemic has given us to go back to better.