Use your challenges to your advantage: Q&A with Millicent Grant

Millicent Grant

At this year's Women in Law Summit we're thrilled to be joined by Millicent Grant, CILEx, President at The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). She'll be inspiring our attendees to take their careers to the next level on 25th September. We asked her about her unique journey and the challenges she's faced along the way.

Who is Millicent Grant? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am the product of a child with a dream.  My uncle was a barrister, and I was inspired to enter the law by a photograph of him in his barrister’s wig and gown. It was one of the photographs that hung in my home and I saw it daily.  I have achieved my ambition and in doing so have I overcome a number of setbacks. I took the only route to a qualification that was available to me when I left school, via what was then the Institute of Legal Executives.  

I have discovered that I am tenacious and resourceful; I have faced challenges in my work life which have led to me changing jobs to get the experience, support and opportunities that I needed to enable me to develop the career that I had always wanted, which was interesting and varied.  I have learned that it does no harm to stretch oneself. In doing so, again motivated by the desire for variety and interest, I have gained an LLM (with merit) in business law, a management qualification, a training qualification and used my qualification and experience as a Chartered Legal Executive as a springboard to work that goes beyond only casework and meeting billing targets.    

I have twice been employed in roles that have been made redundant and each occasion redundancy has led to a key change in the direction of my career – and always for the better.   Along the way, I have trained as and worked as a personal performance and executive coach, delivered a CILEx Level 3 diploma in Law and Practice and developed areas of legal expertise.  In addition to all that I enjoy singing and have done that at a semi-professional level.  I have been involved with a youth work charity, The Knights Youth Centre, for over 15 years and am now chair of the board of Directors and Trustees.  

I like to say “yes” more often than I say “no” and seek to have a good balance between work and other aspects of my life.  I have discovered that I can achieve so much more than I think I can when I act outside the box that others, and sometimes I, put myself in.

There seems to be a real issue, not so much with attracting women into the industry, but actually retaining female talent. What initially made you decide to join such a male-dominated industry? 

I don’t recall having a strong sense that law was male-dominated when I set out on my path to qualification. I went to an all-girls school, so whilst there may have been stereotypical expectations, I was never really aware of gender barriers – or if I was, didn’t acknowledge them or worked through them.  I attended evening classes for my ILEx qualification and the class was mixed.  Gender was never an issue.   I stayed focused on what I wanted to achieve and set my mind to achieving that regardless of the barriers I encountered.

What do you think of the culture within law and what advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

I have worked for many years, in many sectors, public, corporate, private law firms and voluntary sectors, so I’ve seen many changes over the years and noted some differences between the sectors.

Cultures differed between organisations and within sectors.  Overall in the law there is the need to be flexible, keep up to date with changes in the law, technology and legal practice.

To those starting out in the profession I would advise; don’t be put off by challenges you face, work with them and use them to your advantage;  develop a deaf ear and blind eye to those things, circumstances and people that may discourage you and if necessary, change to a more positive perspective.

What do you think is holding back the advancement of gender diversity?

Whilst there are many women qualifying as lawyers – a large proportion of newly qualified solicitors are women and over 75% of CILEx members are women, there is scope for more gender diversity in the rate and extent of progression within the profession. 

Some working cultures are not welcoming to women.   Women are different and, in general, do things differently.  A typically male working environment may not be accommodating or attractive.  Many women may not want to compete with men in the same way men compete with each other.

Women are more likely to need to take career breaks, most often to raise a family, or to look after other responsibilities. When a complete break is taken, it is often difficult to return to the profession at the level they were at when they left and they may also be disadvantaged by being away from the workplace when changes take place.

All solicitors have to comply with their Regulator’s Professional Code of Conduct which includes requirements for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and there is legislation relating to equal pay and equal treatment.  

However, many firms deny the inequality that exists at many levels, caused by customs and practices that have developed over the years, or by the way their organisations are structured.  Employers within the profession can start to address this by assessing and measuring these ways of working these have on equality and diversity and by taking action to reduce or eliminate inequality and unfair discrimination.

Finally, what can our readers, as individuals, do to push for gender diversity? 

Where it is not already happening, readers can encourage their employers to review their working practices and assess them for the impact it has on equality and diversity, drawing their employer’s attention to specific examples.   

Where they exist, join any diversity networks that promote gender diversity within your organisation or the wider legal profession. 

Develop strong positive relationships with both men and women within and outside their organisations – as a support network of allies and mentors – and be an ally and mentor to other women.

The Women in Law Summit returns for 2019, to register click here.