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Gender equality: challenging existing thinking and putting words into action

Posted: 08/03/2018

To coincide with International Women’s Day, Pat Saini, who heads Penningtons Manches’ immigration team, discusses her career aspirations, both past and present, her role as head of the firm’s gender committee, and offers advice on achieving a healthy work/life balance in an interview with COBCOE, the membership organisation for British chambers of commerce and business associations in Europe.

Pat joined Penningtons Manches in 2009 and has over 20 years’ experience in her field. Her clients include education providers, start-ups, large multi-nationals and private individuals. She plays an active role in the firm’s education, digital business, private wealth and India sector groups and in addition leads the diversity and inclusion committee’s gender sub group and is a member of the race and faith sub group.

Externally Pat chairs Tech London Advocates' immigration working group and is a member of Women in Tech. She sits on the joint UKVI and CBI business forum, and is a member of the Forward Ladies business group; the Open University professional advisory group looking at gender equality in the IT sector; DIT's Global Entrepreneurship programme advisory group​; and Founders4Schools.​ Recently, Pat has also been recognised in the Citywealth Top 50 Powerwomen awards.

Q: With over 20 years’ experience in law firms, what would you say you have observed in relation to women working in the legal profession?

A: In my field of immigration there do tend to be more female immigration lawyers than male. I am aware though that this is not reflective of the legal profession in general, certainly at a senior level. A main reason for this is likely to be that many women take a career break or alternative career path when they have children (I have many friends who entered the profession at the same time as I did who after having children did not go back to their previous role). Inevitably that creates a gap where senior positions within the legal profession remain dominated by men. I do, however, see this changing – thanks largely to the introduction of new technology and policies such as agile working being introduced across many firms. At Penningtons Manches, 60% of our workforce is female and we work hard to ensure that our career structure holds no barriers for women in progressing to senior roles. We have put in place a number of initiatives to ensure fairness in our processes and introduced policies (for example relating to sabbaticals and agile working) to support our desire to be a flexible workplace. This is in line with how we see the profession to be moving, as a whole.

Q: What do you hope to achieve through your role as head of the gender committee?

A: The role is definitely not about filling quotas or grabbing headlines. We hope to achieve gender equality and awareness, not just with gender but across all areas of diversity. It is widely reported that diverse work places perform better. I strongly believe in this and part of my role is to challenge what we do to ensure we put “words into actions”.

Q: Have you ever experienced any gender-related obstacles in your career? If so, how did you overcome them?

A: I think it is realistic to say we have all faced some sort of gender-related obstacles. I think what is important is how you overcome them. In a previous role I had a boss who didn’t think you could be a parent and hold down a demanding full-time job at the same time. For me it was important to change that way of thinking and show that it was (most of the time!) possible to juggle family and work commitments.

Q: What would you attribute the success of your career to?

A: I have to say the support of my family. I was the first female in my extended family to leave home and go to university. Growing up in the Midlands in an Asian family in the 90s, there weren’t many parents who were prepared to let their daughters go away to university. So I have my parents to thank for supporting me and allowing me to pursue my career aspirations. More recently the backing of my husband and my 10 year old son has been invaluable. My husband, whilst being successful in his own field, works more locally than I do, which allows me to dedicate more time to my career. My son also takes a keen interest in my career, how hard I worked to get to where I am, who I am meeting, what I am involved in etc. So I would say nowadays I want to remain successful so my son stays proud of his mum.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to any young woman aspiring to develop her career, what would it be?

A: We all have different goals and ambitions, these change with time. Flexibility is key. Decisions at work as well as in life necessitate some sacrifices. I think it’s unrealistic for women to hope to have everything because inevitably there have to be certain sacrifices. It may not be possible to get to the cake sale at school on Wednesday afternoon, but on Friday you will be there cheering your 10 year old on from the touchline. You inevitably have to make choices which mean you can’t have it all. The trick is to learn what things matter the most to both your career and your home life and how you balance them.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP