Interview with Allison Page, AWS Legal Business Woman of the Year 2011
Allison Page is a partner and UK joint head of the projects practice at DLA Piper in Leeds. She has a strong commitment to developing up-and-coming lawyers in her practice.
The Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) describes her as an extraordinary talent who exemplifies how the AWS is ‘essential for the success of each woman solicitor at each stage of their careers.’
Have you experienced or identified any barriers to career progression specific to being a woman at any time in your career? If so please describe and also state how they could be overcome or negotiated.
I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have been developed and supported by senior partners enabling me to fulfil my ambitions. So far so good.
Do you think there are particular issues that affect women at the junior end of the profession?
There is certainly a perception that it can be difficult for women to succeed in a demanding profession like law. But the world is definitely changing and sector-wide, there appears to be a growing movement towards supporting women to ensure they feel they are able to reach their full potential.
Certainly at DLA Piper, the number of women coming through as trainees is greater than the number of men. Like other professional organisations we are working hard to find ways to support our staff regardless of gender to ensure that we don’t lose our talent.
How could workplace culture and working practices be better for women and particularly women junior lawyers?
At DLA Piper, we work hard to ensure that women have both the support they need and the opportunities they deserve in their careers. We have a number of successful female lawyers leading practice groups and our Leeds managing partner is also a woman. Setting an example in similar ways is definitely something that can help change the perceptions people have and be inspiring to women lawyers.
We have set up a Women’s Network, an internal forum which provides an energising, empowering and effective environment for women working here. It gives women a platform from which to network, find the right help and support to achieve personal objectives and help develop the careers of their contemporaries or more junior employees.
Externally, I’m a member of The Two Percent Club, a national initiative which aims to help more senior women raise their profile, advocate the issue of women on boards and network. These kinds of initiatives are helping drive the message home that, for those who want to commit themselves to a career in the profession, there is support available.
This network has another tier, called The Pearls, which is for more junior women who have the potential to be future leaders. Forums like this can be immensely valuable for developing contacts, but also for boosting confidence and capabilities.
If you could enforce one change to help women working in law what would it be?
It is difficult to think of one thing which would change the working environment fundamentally. I do think it would be helpful for people with responsibility for performance management to undertake training on valuing difference.
What advice would you give to women who are starting out in their legal careers?
It’s essential that you do your research into the type of lawyer you want to be – there are a whole host of different options and career paths and making the right choice is crucial. Each offers different opportunities and rewards and is suited to different personalities, so it’s all about finding the right fit to play to individual strengths and characteristics.
Make sure you make the most of the university milk-round process and do as much research as you can into the type of roles available and the firms you could work for, so you understand what you’re committing to.
Do you have a role model or someone who inspires you?
There are many people who have inspired me during my life.
I have always admired very strong women, being from a Northern Irish female-dominated family headed up my indomitable grandmother (aka spitfire) and as a child I recall being in awe of our then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
During my career I have been fortunate to work with many people who have inspired me. From Nick Painter, one of our former partners who died in 2007, I observed the importance of caring for and inspiring your team.
More recently I have had the opportunities of working closely with Sarah Day and Bob Charlton. Sarah Day is our office managing partner in Leeds and also a member of our board and although clearly an extremely successful woman she has lost none of her grace and charm along the way.
Bob Charlton is the head of the group within which I work, Finance and Projects. Working with Bob over the last three years has been a revelation. He is the single most inspiring person I have ever worked with. He is gender blind, extremely inclusive and incredibly dynamic. DLA Piper has always been the most incredibly exciting place to work and Bob has taken it to a whole new level.