Jodi Gordon: Dear Sirs, we’re breaking the bias
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day last month was #breakthebias. The focus was on establishing “a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination”.
When I started out studying law at the University of Aberdeen in 2006, I was very aware that the majority of my class were female, but when it came to applying for jobs, the vast majority of partners within the legal profession and people in power were men. The imbalance was clear.
Throughout my years of studying, I encountered many different personalities. Some urged women to behave more like men in order to ‘get on’ whilst others encouraged individuality and consideration of what you brought to the table outwith the confines of gender.
While International Women’s Day does allow us time to reflect on how far we have come and what more needs to be done to move towards true equality, this conversation cannot and should not be confined to just one day. It was fantastic to see all the online conversations promoting IWD, but we need to make sure that the conversation continues past 8 March each year.
At RTA Law LLP, we have the opportunity to celebrate women in law and in power on a daily basis. Our firm has always been led by women. Brenda Mitchell, senior partner, started the business in 2011 and I was promoted to partner in 2018. We are a niche personal injury practice representing vulnerable road users (motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians) who have been injured in road traffic incidents in Scotland, but we are also unique, being a female-led firm.
That is a rather depressing statement to make in 2022, but I am thrilled to be part of breaking the bias. Eighty per cent of our lawyers are women.
Being a small team, we want to actively encourage individuality and promote people’s strengths, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. We all bring something different to our role and if you place everyone in a box stating what they ought to be able to achieve, you will never see or be able to develop someone’s full potential.
In 2022 and beyond, I would love to see more women actively encouraged to ‘break the bias’ and for negative terminology around strong women in leading roles to be no longer deemed ‘acceptable’. Words such as ’feisty’, ‘fierce’ and ‘bossy’ are all too often used to describe successful women and paint them in a negative light.
There are small changes that can be made to everyday practice. Every hour I will receive an email addressed ‘Dear Sirs’. These emails come from insurance companies, other solicitors and the courts. That practice in itself is a bias assuming that law firms must be run by men and therefore all correspondence should be addressed as such.
At RTA Law, we seek to address the individual we are emailing by their name. This removes the need to address by gender and thereby make subconscious assumptions. Where a generic email address is provided, we then simply address all correspondence using the company name.
These kinds of changes should not be seen as groundbreaking or forwarding-thinking. After all, this is 2022; your gender should not define you or your role within a company. It is one thing to support IWD on an annual basis, but more needs to be done to change daily processes so that change is actually being made.
We all must work together to push for true equality in the workplace and for it to be commonplace to have law firms led by women. There is no unilateral approach to this and no set paved route to follow. In some ways, it is simply that we must all do more to halt the impact of unconscious bias and focus on what strengths and qualities individuals possess.
As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Jodi Gordon is a partner at Road Traffic Accident Law (Scotland) LLP