International Women’s Day: seven amazing stories

Natalie Bannister

As an ambitious young woman studying law, having an unplanned pregnancy at 19 could have been a career breaker for Natalie Bannister. Instead, it proved to be just another milestone that she took in her stride on her successful legal career. The leader of our National Commercial practice and partner in our Property & Projects practice, Natalie is recognised as a leading property, planning and environment lawyer. She shares her story.

Natalie with her son James
Natalie with her son James

My mother, Tina Millar, was very ambitious. She migrated from Italy when she was 10 years old. She studied law in the 1970s, one of only two women in her university course. She was a single mother working in a profession dominated by men at a time with limited before or after school care or good accessible child care.

She was incredibly determined and hard-working and she set that example for me. She was a great role model to me of what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.

An unexpected detour

While I was studying law at university, I had an unplanned pregnancy at 19. It took many people by surprise but my partner and I decided we would go ahead with this new path we were on. Then my focus became about managing motherhood and study and keeping on the career path.

One unexpected benefit is that I already had my children when I started working as a lawyer. They were five and two. Many women are senior lawyers when they start their families. They are in the thick of the hardest part of parenthood while also juggling the demands of seniority. Parental leave is a significant interruption to your career and it can be hard to get the career momentum going again.

For me, my difficulty was juggling all the demands of young children - childcare illnesses, curriculum days, school holidays - while working as a junior lawyer, where you don’t have as much control of your day.

Ensuring flexibility and support for all

I’ve never forgotten the stress of working to a tight deadline or having a meeting with clients and watching the clock tick towards 6pm, when childcare closed and the fear, panic and anxiety I felt.

I had a really flexible and supportive boss, who trusted in me. I also had a very supportive partner who was an equal co-parent. I was lucky and I’ve always been mindful of that and tried hard to be as supportive of others as they were to me.

It’s important that our people are able to manage their days in a way that works for them, and for us. Of course we need to meet client commitments and other workplace demands, but there are lots of ways to do that besides being at your desk most of the day, every day.

I am conscious as I go through my daily life to try and make decisions that make a positive impact, whether that’s achieving small change, through the workplace school holiday program we’ve just introduced, or large, such as the WGEA citation the firm maintains.

We are a culture-driven firm and everything we do is done through a filter of asking ‘How does this affect our people?’ If it’s not aligned with our values, we don’t do it. We need to be a successful and thriving business. Profit is one aspect of that but culture is just, if not more, important.

Inspiring women

I’ve been inspired by my mum. I’m a fierce feminist and that is a framework for a lot of my decision making. We need to ensure gender and diversity in our firm and in the community. Once you see gender disparity, you can’t un-see it. And if you’re conscious of it, then it’s really quite easy to ensure good cross-representation. I would never, for example, pay money to attend a conference that featured an all-male panel. I find lots of individual people inspiring, but what really inspires me is just seeing people doing their best, navigating through life’s challenges, contributing to society in one way or another, and ultimately… thriving.