International Women’s Day: seven amazing stories

Jacqui Barrett

Perspective, empathy and drive are three themes that stand out in Jacqui Barrett’s story when we caught up with her this week for International Women’s Day. A partner in our Sydney Corporate and Commercial law practice, Jacqui is dedicated to mentoring and helping to progress the next generation of lawyers, and is particularly interested in encouraging female founders and women in startups. She shares her story.

Jacqui and her mum
Jacqui and her mum

I grew up in the Blue Mountains and am the last of four children. Both my parents were doctors and worked in their family medical practice in the western suburbs of Sydney. They had a very strong work ethic and sense of responsibility to the community which they instilled in all of us.

I worked for a long time as my parents’ receptionist. It was in this role that I experienced the wonderful diversity of people and learned the importance of being a good listener and having care and empathy for others. I also, and I think most importantly, gained perspective. I quickly understood that a lot of people faced significant challenges or, worse still, experienced suffering.

Having this realisation (particularly as a kid who had led a pretty fortunate and worry-free existence up to that point) made a significant impact on me.

As an adult, and a legal practitioner, I have tried never to lose this perspective and the importance of being able to put myself in the shoes of others. It has guided my approach to how I work and interact with colleagues and clients and emphasised to me the value of diversity and the benefits that different life experiences and perspectives can bring to the workplace.

Starting out in law

I ended up choosing to study law because I was not so good at maths and thought law would not require me to do any - how wrong I was!

In truth, I was very close to moving to another degree when I got my first paralegal job. I was fortunate to have a female boss who was a great mentor and friend to me. She taught me to enjoy law for its practical application and the genuine difference it could make for clients.

I moved through a couple of practice areas before I found my passion in corporate and general commercial law. It ticked all the boxes for me - lots of client contact and a sense that the work that I did would have a positive impact for the individuals involved.

When I started in corporate law it was a pretty male dominated specialisation. I was the only female lawyer in my team for a long time and, while I knew I had the support of my male colleagues, I found this quite isolating at times and difficult to communicate my point of view. This experience ultimately motivated me to try as much as possible to bring more women into corporate law and demonstrate it was a viable long term career option for them.

Right now, my immediate team has an equal representation of male and female lawyers which brings with it diversity of opinion and perspective. I also work with amazing male partners and colleagues who have only ever treated me equally and supported me in all of my activities and initiatives at Hall & Wilcox.

Professional success and (not or) personal success

As I have progressed through my career, and started to have responsibility for the development and progression of others, promoting diversity and equal rights for women in the profession, and in business generally, has become a priority for me.

I have been able to pursue these dual objectives through my involvement in our graduate recruitment program and in the training and mentoring of younger lawyers. In particular, I try to provide support for, and to mentor, female lawyers who can find the challenge of competing professional and personal demands very stressful - I do not want our female lawyers to feel that they have to sacrifice one over the other.

I think that, in addition to our diversity policies, Hall & Wilcox’s commitment to flexibility and agile working practices plays a significant part in reassuring all young lawyers that they can pursue career goals on their own terms and at their own pace.

I would like to think that a person who starts as a graduate at Hall & Wilcox right now is able to say in 10 years’ time that they have had the same opportunity to succeed and progress as anyone else – no matter their gender, background or their personal circumstances.

Women in startups

Right now, I am very focussed on finding ways of helping female founders and women working in startups. I have worked with startup and scale-up business for a long time and there is still a pretty big disparity in the sector between the number of successful female-founded startups and the number of successful male-founded startups.

It doesn’t make sense – the sector is forward thinking, innovative, diverse and inclusive – why is it that female-founded startups do not appear to have enjoyed the same rate of success?

In 2019, we launched our Women in Startups initiative and our initial research indicates that some of the reasons for the inequality can be attributed to the subtle differences in the way in which women and men approach business and the perceptions held by investors. I find the work that we are doing fascinating and nearly every day meet a new and inspirational female founder. There is a lot of positive change happening and it is very exciting to see Hall & Wilcox make a contribution to this change.

Women and men who have inspired me

All women who have drive, courage and humour inspire me but my mum (greatly supported by my ‘girl power’ dad) has been a source of particular inspiration to me. She has an incredible work ethic and is dedicated to performing her dual role of doctor and mother with compassion, care and diligence. She is a good and kind person.

I am equally inspired by the diversity and creativity of the young lawyers who I work with. The next generation has generally grown up with working parents. They don’t see women in the workforce as unusual – they see a future where gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness is the norm and it is our job to help them to make it happen.