Leading female leadership development

September 30th, 2015

By Jeanne-Mari Retief

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) supports growth in the number of women heading firm management and women in the judiciary. Therefore, Legal Education and Development (LEAD) launched a pilot project in November 2014 to equip and empower female attorneys to understand certain key concepts of significant leadership. Through this initiative, LEAD wishes to strengthen leadership capacity in law firms for purposes of business growth and exceptional service to society. Following the success of the first programme an additional programme was scheduled for 2015, which will conclude in October.

Through this initiative and other social studies conducted by the LSSA, it has become clear that there are some stumbling blocks for women within the legal profession. Some of the challenges identified through the LSSA’s interaction with women in the profession include:

  • Difficulty in balancing work and family.
  • A need for flexi-hours and home-­offices.
  • Disrespect from male colleagues and clients.
  • Inequality in promotions and salary scale.

Women often portray various roles (ie, wife, mother, attorney) and the challenge of balancing work and family becomes stressful at times. This leads to various women opting out of private practice to either become sole practitioners or pursue different careers within the legal profession.

Firms generally do not promote home-offices or working flexi-time. This could become a problem for women who would like to have children, since they do not want to take maternity leave for fear of halting their career growth and missing out on opportunities. Those who already have children struggle to find the time to commit to both work and family.

Women tend to think differently than men when it comes to business and it seems that they tend to avoid confrontation and rather focus on working harder and putting in longer hours to achieve their career goals. However, from the programme, the general feeling still seems to be that men are promoted more often than women and women struggle to obtain the same salary scale as men.

Through the programme the LSSA acknowledges the challenges women face in the legal profession. The focus is on helping women face these challenges and equipping them with the skills to deal with it effectively.

It is important for women to be equipped with the right skills to help them become forward-thinking significant leaders. Leaders who lead by example, think outside the box and embrace change. Leaders who effectively deal with challenges and still become great pioneers despite these challenges.

In order to achieve this, the LSSA aims to equip women with the business skills and the emotional intelligence needed to build successful careers and effectively manage each aspect of their lives.

As part of the programme, certain key business strategies are dealt with including –

  • the importance of having a clear purpose;
  • understanding the importance of a good team;
  • knowing how to effectively manage the team;
  • choosing the right people; and
  • understanding the basic importance of strategising.

Other core principles of leadership are also dealt with to demonstrate the importance of building lasting success for their careers. These include Belbin profiling and sessions on leadership styles and how to deal with others that have different leadership styles.

Effective communication is another key element of the programme. It is important to know how to effectively communicate with others, how to handle confrontations and how to effectively work in a team environment.

Although women face certain challenges in the legal profession, it should not dissuade them from paving their way to leadership positions. By equipping women with the core skills necessary to effectively manage various areas of their lives, understand core business principles and how to achieve success despite challenges, the LSSA hopes to make a significant contribution to women in law.

It is the LSSA’s goal to inspire law firms to be leading firms in this area. Law firms that promote female leadership and the development of female leadership skills.

Jeanne-Mari Retief LLB LLM (UP) is a project consultant for Legal Education and Development in Pretoria.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (Oct) DR 28.