As part of our continued commitment to International Women’s Day (IWD) we are interviewing a number of female business services leaders throughout the year to discuss some of the challenges that the professional service sector is currently facing. This year’s IWD theme is ‘Break the Bias’.
You have been Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Linklaters for 3.5 years. Tell us a little more about your role.
I look after technology strategy, delivering a sustainable and operational technology service and solutions. My eye is always on innovation and the Green agenda.
I am involved from the strategic, concept and design stage through to delivery of solutions, that support and underpin the firm’s strategy, making sure we deliver good quality technology solutions to the Firm ensuring we have the appropriate Information Security wrapper around everything we do – the team is made up of Architecture, Tech Projects, Business Analysis, Software Development, Test, Digital Adoption and Information Security. We consider what technology we will need to replace, what is coming up that is new, and we set out a road map for the next three to four years, which we cost up so that we can then show the firm the expenditure and the technology, and how it all fits together.
I also sit on the Innovation Steering Group, which has lots of great initiatives, and I sit on the steering committee for Create IQ, which is our contract management, digitisation and automation platform. I get involved in lots of different things which is great.
How have you seen your role and influence change over the last few years?
Technology is now moving at a much faster pace than ever before, and it’s becoming more powerful and readily available. In the legal tech industry, people are really starting to look at how legal processes work – what can be automated and where AI can be applied.
I’ve seen my role and the teams role move away from pure tech and into business engagement, working closely with practices and different business areas to understand what is needed and then mapping that back to the technology. Awful though it was at the time, Covid forced a shift to working from home, and people realised the critical importance of technology as it became front and centre of enabling everyone to continue working introducing an agile approach, as well as efficiencies and new challenges. There’s now a lot more visibility and understanding of technology as people embrace different ways of working – and tech solutions such as Exchange Online, Office 365, One Drive and various cloud solutions, infrastructure services and platforms as well as iPads have all come together to support these new ways of working.
What is the future of technology?
I’m mostly excited as well as terrified. Technology is moving so fast and becoming so intelligent in its applications, from its use in medicine (my Mum recently had a WiFi-enabled pacemaker fitted!) to AI capability in robotics… There’s so much that’s now possible that wasn’t before.
But it’s actually all about having the right people in place to pull everything together to deliver against the firm’s strategy. We can deploy as much software as we like, but if people don’t use it there is no point. We recently launched our digital adoption team, who look at how we are using tech and how can we make it better if it’s not being used. We’re taking quite a proactive approach to all the different technology solutions that we have and are working more closely than ever before with lawyers to consider tech issues/products from their perspective and the impact on their day.
Why is Linklaters a good place to work?
There is a really great team spirit here in which everyone wants to do their best. Our new firm wide strategy of being bold and ambitious is incredibly exciting and its supported by a leadership team (including our first female Senior Partner) who are driving some great initiatives.
For the past nine years Linklaters has appeared in The Times Top 50 employers for women – because the firm is so supportive of all its employees and it believes in developing opportunities for women. Some examples are the firm’s recent launch of an IVF and fertility treatment policy as well as a menopause strategy providing training for managers to understand and manage issues women face, including allowing medical leave and much more.
What is Linklaters doing to support diversity in technology?
Gender diversity is particularly important in technology: compared to all the other business services functions, technology seems to have this real lack of gender diversity and many women are unaware of the exciting tech jobs that are available.
But while it is still mainly men in these roles, we now have a targeted approach to recruitment to encourage women to apply, as well as those from different races and backgrounds. We work with recruitment agencies like Totum to promote our roles, we make sure we advertise more in the right places and talk about the roles because they are exciting jobs. The critical thing for me is to bring someone on board that has lots of enthusiasm, drive and ideas. We can then train them up and help to integrate them into the team.
We have set up an equality and diversity group in technology. We are a global group and meet monthly. We do all sorts of things including working with schools, talking to the younger generation about the kinds of roles that are available. Sometimes you can see the kids’ eyes glaze over until we let them know how much they could be earning!
We also undertake various other activities to promote diversity including podcasts to answer questions around gender or race, an insights circle for teams to meet once a month to discuss books and topics around race, a 50/50 gender action plan in every practice, a lot around supporting working parents and we’re implementing sponsorship programmes for underrepresented talent as well.
How did you break through the bias?
When I was younger and started my journey, some 30 years ago, I didn’t understand or recognise the barriers that existed and I was naively unaware of the challenges. – I wasn’t alive to the lack of diversity at the time but it’s a big responsibility for me now. I would say to people if you want to do something, don’t be intimidated if you’re the first person to do it or if you’re the only female in the room. Find a line of connectivity with the person that’s interviewing you, or the person you’re working with, stand out a bit and go the extra mile.
Don’t let others tell you that you can’t do something. Find what you’re passionate about, work hard, stay focused, don’t give up or be put off when it gets challenging, and you will succeed.
What advice would you give women who want to break into leadership?
Be your authentic self. If people like that, then great. If they don’t then maybe there’s a different place you need to be. Just give it your best shot. Surround yourself with people that you like and / or trust. I have met many over the years and we still meet and talk.
Work with your team, help further develop them with individual development plans and take time to talk to them. It is important to make sure everyone feels as important as everyone else; we’re all part of the same jigsaw puzzle in which every piece is equally important.
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