International Women’s Day: seven amazing stories
Sometimes we are sent down a career path based on the expectations of past generations, as Liz Meyer found when she decided to start all over again after her first career as a nurse. Liz is now a very successful partner at Hall & Wilcox, an exceptional personal injury / workers compensation lawyer and a woman who has led the way for many people within the firm. She shares her story.
I am the second of four children – two girls and two boys. The view as I was growing up was that the boys would go into a profession and the girls would study nursing or teaching. It seemed determined pretty early on that I would be the nurse as I was caring, and my sister would be the teacher as she was smart… her presents would be books and mine would be toy washing machines and sewing kits.
It is hard to imagine that type of stereotyping, however it was there.
I did go into nursing, as was expected. I specialised in coronary care and emergency care. Nursing is a fantastic profession. Very challenging, but also rewarding. I worked with some amazing people and valued the experiences I had during that time period.
Choosing our destiny
I knew nursing wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel intellectually challenged and wanted more. With support and encouragement from my late husband, Tim, I enrolled in an Arts degree at Monash University. I remember sobbing after my first day, convinced I wasn’t strong enough to start all over again. However I persevered and graduated with first-class honours in History.
This was a good lesson for me, as it highlighted that anything is possible. The person who started the degree was very different to the person who graduated. And, while studying and working I had my greatest achievement, my daughter Phoebe! Studying, working and becoming a mum!
I decided to continue studying and started a law degree. It was during this time that my wonderful and supportive husband became very ill. Tim was such an inspiration to me. He was a total feminist and truly believed in me and what I can achieve.
It was a very hard time, working as a nurse, studying law, raising Phoebe and losing Tim. There were many times when I was convinced it wasn’t worth continuing the study, this new destiny I had chosen for myself. As Tim was nearing the end, he said 'please do this for me'. I felt that even without him by my side, he was still my inspiration to keep going.
I graduated, completed my articles and became a lawyer. I started on my next career.
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’
When I was a 6th year lawyer I decided to apply for a senior role in-house. I knew it was a position that many people in my network and area of expertise (personal injury litigation and workers compensation insurance) were interested in. A lot of people were applying for it.
At about the same time I had been reading about how men and women differ when it comes to applying for promotions or new jobs. It is generalising, however women tend to only put the application in if they meet all the requirements and men will be happy if they meet half of them.
I remember very deliberately going through the whole process 'like a man' would. I applied only though I met half the requirements, I interviewed positively and I got the job.
I have given this example to many people when they need encouragement to progress in their careers and have self-doubt. Often we are more nervous about making the decision about which path to take, rather than the path itself. And I recommend the Susan Jeffers book, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’.
Forging a path for women
I joined Hall & Wilcox in 2005, and became a partner in 2007. It was a different era then in the legal sector. Diversity and inclusion was not as much a focus. We were very fortunate to have Tony Macvean as our Managing Partner. Tony has been a champion of diversity at our firm long before it was the thing everyone did.
A few years after becoming a partner I was asked to join our firm Board. I was to be the first female Board member for the firm. This was at a time where the male / female partner numbers were starting to become equal and it was recognised the Board should reflect the partnership.
I can admit now that I was very nervous about that first Board meeting. Not because I was the only woman in the room, but because I had never been on a Board and didn’t feel I knew enough about the business of running a law firm. I am now so pleased I did – I grew as a leader and a business person so much during my time on the Hall & Wilcox Board. I now recommend to every person that I mentor to take up the opportunity if you ever get the chance.
From that point, I have tried to forge my own way forward. I have kept my identity and progressed in the firm, ensuring I remain true to myself. There was no real training for women to do this, or no quotas for firms to meet. Not like now. I just kept pushing forward and learning. Hopefully I helped to create a path for the amazing women who have followed after me.
And I can report that every step of the way, even when I was the only female voice in the room, I always felt respected and listened to. We are that sort of firm – there is respect for every voice.
Three successful careers, two successful marriages
While building a career in law I was very fortunate to meet another wonderful and supportive man, Sandy, and we have been married for 14 years. And my baby, Phoebe, has started having her own babies!
I reflect on the fact that I have had three successful careers (nursing, motherhood and law) and two successful marriages. I have been very, very fortunate.
I am starting to relinquish some of my responsibilities at the firm, handing over to the next generation. This is a terrifying process for me. Since I was 17, apart from 4 months after giving birth to my daughter, I have always been fully involved in my career. It is very hard to start walking away from what has been such a focus for so long… not sure if I am ready to mention the 'R-word' yet.
So many people have said that retirement is easier for women – I definitely don’t agree with that. After everything you achieve in a career, it is not easy to walk away regardless of whether you are female or male.
However, I am loving the mentor and business leader role model space that I now find myself in, supporting our juniors as they start their career, and also women who are moving into more senior roles. Perhaps there is still time for a fourth career.