International Women’s Day: seven amazing stories
Growing up in the small Western Australian town of Toodyay, Stephanie Driscoll says that it never occurred to her that she would one day become a lawyer. After commencing studies for a career in health sciences, then gaining 15 years of experience in law, Stephanie is a newly-appointed partner in our Insurance WA practice. She shares her story.
I come from a strong, matriarchal family. So it’s quite surprising that I didn’t consider studying law earlier. As all the women in my family worked, the focus for me in the early days was on getting a job and being independent and productive.
When I left podiatry school, I got a job at an insurance company. When I asked a female solicitor who I had been briefing over the years for a reference for a new job she instead offered me a job. I then began working for her and other insurance partners as a law clerk and WorkCover advocate before commencing five-year articles, which was like doing law as an apprenticeship.
When asked about the women we look up to, I think most people look to our leaders and powerful women in business. For me, I look to and am most thankful for my strong group of female and male friends within the industry who have consistently supported me and said ‘put your hand up’ and ‘you can do it’. I am also incredibly grateful for the partners, both male and female, who I have worked with for the past 20 years. These have been the people who I have looked to for inspiration.
They asked, ‘Why aren't you doing this yet? Why haven't you tried that? Why aren't you studying law?’ And later, ‘How are you going with law? And now why aren't you asking for promotion?’
One woman in particular who inspired me (and who put me through articles) was one of the first female partners I worked for. She had two young children and made it look effortless.
But I know now that it's not easy, because I have two kids of my own. While she had a husband, she was doing all of the traditional ‘mother’ tasks such as dropping her children to school and picking them up and just generally being an involved, fantastic mother while also running our team and working flexibly. She would leave at 3.00 pm every day and then log back on and work at home. She was really ahead of the game. People weren't doing that 20 years ago.
Since I started working here at Hall & Wilcox, I've always felt part of the team and I've never been made to feel different because I’m a woman and a mother. That's one thing that I love here. I'm just treated as a smart, capable human being.
The partnership and the board are really conscious that we have so many amazingly talented women in the broader team who aren't necessarily making it to partnership. There is a strong desire to support women into these roles.
Women make up a significant portion of our team, both lawyers and operations/support. We had two male partners until July 2019, when Maree Ferguson and I were both appointed to the partnership. This was only possible because of the incredible support and encouragement that we received from our partners.
Determination with a dash of humour
To juggle partnership and raising children, I think you have to be incredibly organised, incredibly determined, and have a really good sense of humour. You also have to be honest with your team, but also with your family. I have found that most things can be achieved with a great attitude and sheer force of will.
Having an experienced, supportive team definitely helps. When someone is sick, a colleague is able to step in. If you have something in the calendar and something else comes up at the last minute, then there's always someone experienced to stand in at short notice to help out.
Normalising what was once taboo
When I first started out in the law, people didn't really talk about their families at work. They didn't really mention their kids or their private life.
The thinking was, ‘You're at work to work’ and that part of your life was hidden. Meanwhile, women like the inspiring female partner who I worked for was forging the way for women like me to decide that we can have both aspects to our life and enjoy them and be open about them, with support.
One of the ways I try to make a difference is to be quite open about what I'm doing and where I'm going, and how long I'm going to be. I don't pretend I'm going to a meeting if I'm going home to pick up the kids, I just go and do it. Then I log back on at night and let my team know, ‘I'll be back on tonight. I'm on my phone if you need me.’
So, I just try and make it a normal part of the work day and mostly it works really well.
The other way I try to make a difference is to encourage friends and colleagues to put their hand up for promotions and other opportunities they might be uncertain about or never considered themselves capable of. It’s amazing how the right word of encouragement or support given at the right time can really change the course of that person’s life and I really feel that I am an example of this.