International Women’s Day 2021 – A chat with Joanna DeBiase
The last of our chats to our female leader, ask Joanna DeBiase, our managing partner, to share her experience of being a women in the legal profession. We asked Joanna to tell us who her role models were/are and what advice she would give her younger self to prepare for the life ahead. Here is what she had to say…
Who is your most significant female role model and what have they taught you?
My mum and my aunt were very representative of the women in my family – one had a stellar career as a doctor in London and the other stayed at home with her family. Both did such a good job of providing an anchor for their families despite their different paths. Both provided me with a role model and helped and supported me at different stages.
What has been you greatest challenge as a woman in the legal profession?
Balancing family life alongside my career. At times it has been extremely difficult and I even gave up the idea of a career once I had three under fives! However, coming to this realisation freed me to decide I only wanted to work part-time and that led me to a different career. I don’t think this is unique to the legal profession.
What do you think is the most effective thing IBB does to support female lawyers?
The most effective thing you can do is to allow people flexibility to work at their own pace when they have competing commitments. Again, I don’t think this just applies to women and to those with families. Many good people drop out if they cannot do it all and no one benefits from that.
What is the best initiative you have come across that is designed to support and advance woman in the legal profession?
Not really an initiative but the best change has been the change in how people who work part-time are perceived in the workplace. When I started to work part-time it was obvious that some people felt I was not properly committed and I was taken seriously at first. I was let go from my previous firm for insisting that I wanted to continue to work part-time. I worked part-time up to when I became managing partner.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Take off your “work mask” and be yourself. Everyone needs to have a sense of humour at work and not take themselves and work too seriously.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self, just starting out?
I definitely lacked confidence when I was starting out – a bit of imposter syndrome perhaps. This caused me to worry about whether I was doing a good enough job. If I could go back and advise my younger self I would recommend some coaching to build my confidence. You can be your best when you are not worrying and being self-critical but it takes some reflection to move away from this.
What are you most proud of in your career to date.
Becoming managing partner in a great firm that I have helped to build over the last 20 years.
Define your ‘superpower’ and tell us what actual superpower you would choose if you could?
I think my super power is “getting things done” at home and at work. If I could choose an actual super power it would be eternal strength and fitness – I find going to the gym/exercising very boring and a necessary waste of time.
What is the one key issue that you would ‘Choose to Challenge’ ?
My family including my extended family valued women and girls and treated them equally with the men and boys of the family. I know that I was lucky to grow up in a family like this and I realise that society does not always show women and girls the same respect. I think that if we could challenge more of the inequality in high profile public life for example – equal pay for actresses; equal prize money in sport and equal representation in the Boardroom; we would be going a long way to sending a signal that women are different but equal and providing positive messages for the next generation of young women.