08 Mar 2018
International Women’s Day is a worldwide campaign taking place annually on the 8 March, not only celebrating the achievements of women but promoting tangible progress towards gender parity.
Following the alarming findings of the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report (courtesy of the World Economic Forum), it is crucial that motivation is maintained and we actively promote movements like #PressForProgress.
In recognition of this, we sat down with just a few of our fantastic female members: Leonora Riesenburg FCIArb (UAE), Olivia Matovu ACIArb (Uganda) and Noor Kadhim (France) from locations across the globe to find out what life is like for a woman working in ADR in 2018.
Why do you work in ADR?
Olivia: ADR promotes faster resolution of disputes. As a weapon for my clients, I provide them with professional advice on how to deal with their disputes in an expeditious manner. When representing them as their advocate or professional advisor before the mediators, arbitrators, courts and other tribunals, my focus is to find solutions that will bring the dispute to an end sooner than later and ADR has proved to be one of such solutions.
What is it like to be a woman in the ADR sphere?
Leonora: Women are given a hard time by men. Women are given a hard time by other women. Women tend to give themselves a hard time. Women need to manage their family, to manage their practice, and if there’s any time left to manage themselves to ensure they look a million dollars. It is not an easy juggle; women generally need to work harder to establish themselves and their practice. That takes commitment, energy and passion.
Olivia: As a female ADR practitioner, persuading a client to consider mediation and negotiation as an alternative to undergoing a litigious court process has been an uphill task. Some clients have expressed that “being a woman, she is going soft, has no muscle to fight these guys in the courts”. These statements or expressions, while at first they took a toll on me and affected my confidence levels, I soon learnt that self-pity is not the solution. With support and mentorship from my Partners at Ligomarc Advocates, I made a deliberate effort to demonstrate both my competences and capabilities to our clients, to explain to them the process of mediation, negotiation and arbitration, the benefits of exploring ADR and to have preparatory meetings for setting strategy for the ADR process.
Noor: Dispute resolution has traditionally been a male-dominated profession. The highest positions - partner, CEO - are still mostly occupied by men (obviously with notable and prominent exceptions), while a large, sometimes overriding, proportion of the middle tier is comprised of women. In part, this is due to women themselves failing to promote each other, or assert their rights. The roots of under-assertion have been said to have possibly originated in the playground or classroom, where girls habituated to dissimilar cultural environments to boys, and to more conciliatory and group-oriented activities, learned how to speak and project themselves differently to males. This gave the incorrect impression that they were less confident or capable.
What is an average working day like for you as professional women in the ADR world?
Leonora: An average day starts, almost ritualistically, with a couple of cups of strong coffee. A coffee for a run down on latest updates. A coffee over some rigorous reflection time, typically spent identifying actions for the day ahead. The rest of the day is devoted to meeting those targets and ticking off that list. On a good day, by the time I leave the office, targets are met, the list is done and my desk is clear. Practicing as an arbitrator or a mediator sounds glamorous. It’s not all glamour. You really have to love what you do.
Olivia: Juggling the roles of a wife, mother and a professional is no easy task but it is achievable. As a wife and mother of five schoolgoing children, my day starts at 5am when we wake up to prepare for school and work respectively. After dropping the children off at school, my husband drops me at work usually at around 7:30am. While at my desk, I run through my diary for the day’s schedule. On some occasions, I have mediation or arbitration sessions to attend to. At Ligomarc Advocates, we work as a team and each case is handled by a minimum of two advocates. My co-chair and I, then set off for a pre-scheduled meeting with the client to prepare for a session scheduled for the afternoon. Most times we have had meetings before to discuss the strategy for the ADR process but our practice is to meet with the client a few hours before the session to recap what we previously discussed and agreed.
How do you go about managing your work/life balance?
Leonora: Striking a work-life balance is tricky. The needs and desires of modern day commerce being what they are, the first thing that will be chopped from the diary is a “life” event. Like anything else, work-life balance is something that needs to be worked at. It can be easy to fall hostage to a toxic work routine. Drawing a line in the sand and keeping to it is not always as simple as it sounds. I make a point of carving out as much quality time with loved ones whenever and wherever possible, and making the most of a quiet spell for impromptu travels, whether it’s down the road or slightly further afield.
Noor: I manage my daily work-life balance by allocating certain tasks to fixed times of the day (emails in the morning, meditation, a sit-down non-desk lunch). Also, weekends are for relaxation unless an emergency arises. I do not believe women face greater challenges in achieving a work-life balance than men: it is equal effort.
Olivia: Managing a work life balance is a challenge and one has to be intentional at ensuring that such a balance is attained. For instance, sometimes business stretches beyond the usual business hours, yet the children must be picked from school between 5 and 6pm. Through this experience, I have appreciated the role of a supportive spouse. My husband will pick up the children, and I join them later at home. Sometimes I find them already asleep. I nonetheless have an opportunity to interact with them the next morning as we prepare and drive to school and work. Being intentional on sharing the same car is one of the strategies we have set to enable us to share the first few hours of the morning together as a family.
What are the challenges you face on a daily basis and your message to other women in ADR?
Olivia: Over my years in ADR, I have learned that once you put yourself out there and exhibit excellence in your work, the gender issue slowly dissipates. People view and value your work output not based on gender differences but on the quality of your work. However, as a woman, you must work harder to get the recognition and maintain it.
Noor: Law is competitive enough without throwing gender diversity into the mix. But the issue is relevant, like ageism. Reminding ourselves of it – for example, through signing up to The Pledge and joining Arbitral Women - is crucial. I have always worked hard for my achievements, but I try not to compare myself to men, because I still think that if you work hard enough - your sex should not matter in ADR. And yet, I noticed that male arbitrators still featured heavily on preferred parties’ and counsel’s lists.
In the past, I have found that it is more challenging to demonstrate assertiveness without being seen as 'bossy' (a man would simply be seen as ‘confident’). It is a delicate line to tread.
Leonora: Each day brings its own set of challenges, and with it opportunities. I enjoy a good challenge and delight in the prospect of turning challenges into opportunities. My message to all women in ADR is to embrace challenges, not to lose sight of the bigger picture, to push through, drive forward, and for goodness sake give yourselves a break every now and then!
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