Welcome to the next interview feature with the executive committee of Women in Insolvency and Restructuring Victoria (WIRV). We are delighted to present insights and perspectives shared by Sahra Connor, WIRV Vice President and Special Counsel at Saxbys.
1. What does this year’s theme for Women’s Day #ChooseToChallenge mean for you in your work life?
For me, the theme #ChooseToChallenge emphasises the constant conscious and subconscious gender biases faced by women in all facets of their life. I see these biases often in my work life, whether in the form of gender-specific language being used by colleagues or clients (for example – judges being referred to as he, or the use of the pronoun he when referring to a senior practitioner) or people behaving in a way to more subtly diminish the role a female practitioner has in any given interaction.
#ChooseToChallenge calls on everyone to be conscious of these biases, to both change their attitudes and behaviour and also to identify biased behaviour in others and call it out as it happens. This builds an awareness that is fundamental to achieving change.
2. How do you challenge or address stereotypes at work?
I identify my own biased behaviours and do my best to educate people who engage in this behaviour. This can sometimes be tricky, especially when the person you are dealing with is a client(!), but it is really important and you learn to be subtle and polite about it.
For me, this journey has taken some time. I am constantly trying to improve my behaviour, increase my knowledge and address my own biases. My personal learning is ongoing and has become easier for me over time with reinforcement and further awareness and education.
3. What are some of the most pressing issues fuelling gender inequality at the workplace, and what are your recommendations to address these?
In my view, one of the major issues fuelling gender inequality in the workplace is the lack of inclusive organisational structures and cultures that are accepting of women. This results in a much lower proportion of women staying in a workplace or industry and reaching higher-level positions. In law and insolvency, this is illustrated by the significant disparity between men and women in senior and leadership positions, despite the fact that women often represent the majority in lower-level positions.
To address this, we need to re-organise the structures and culture of workplaces to focus on flexibility and inclusivity. Our organisations must include gender equality in their core values, but not only that – they must practice those core values in the conduct of their business, the way they treat their staff and by demonstrating those core values through the day-to-day conduct of management and senior staff. This can be progressed by providing flexible working hours for all employees and ensuring that women are promoted within your organisation and are represented at senior levels. A mentorship program can also be a fantastic way to provide support and inspiration for your more junior staff.
4. How can organisations and society at large create awareness and acceptance of gender neutrality?
Through education and continually working to improve awareness not only of the issues but also of your own behaviour and interactions with other people.
5. What is your advice to women who are just starting their career in law?
Be bold and be brave. Law is a wonderfully rewarding career that I recommend to anyone who loves an intellectual challenge, has a strategic mind and wants to help people.
Identify people who inspire you and ask them for mentorship and advice. You might be surprised at how many people are willing to engage with you. If you find the right mentor, you will not only have a great resource of experience available to you, but also someone who, by their very existence, demonstrates that your aspirations can become your reality.
Law can be a tricky industry, and it can sometimes feel like you are not good enough (especially in the early days – if only law school prepared you for actual legal practice!). Keep working at it, take on feedback and you will get there. If you ever feel like a challenge is too much, ask for help and turn it into a learning experience – you will get it right next time.
6. Who or what has inspired you to become the successful person that you are today?
I am lucky in that I have worked with several incredible practitioners each with their strengths and values. So, I guess I have followed my advice to seek out the right mentors, each of whom has been brilliant in their own way and has passed on some of their knowledge and experience to me. Watching my mentors (and witnessing their genius) has always inspired me to push myself as a practitioner and to be successful for my clients and for myself.
7. What is your favourite song?
Taylor Swift, Shake it Off.
8. Two words to describe yourself.
Intentional and motivated.
WIRV is a not-for-profit association that through a female executive committee, connects, empowers and contributes to its members, the insolvency industry and the wider community. Visit WIRV for more information https://wirv.com.au/