“I like to go above and around” Inez M Brown, Partner & Head of Clinical Negligence, Medical Accident Group
“I like to go above and around”
Inez M Brown started as a legal secretary and is now a Partner and Head of Clinical Negligence at Medical Accident Group, part of Harrison Clark Rickerbys (HCR Law.) She is also President of Birmingham Law Society and Chair of the IoD for the West Midlands.
Keen to encourage other women – especially women of colour – to break down barriers and make it to the top, she reflects on what has helped her succeed.
The importance of mentoring
At twenty, I was extremely insecure, unconfident and wanting to be accepted by others. It was always my ambition to become a solicitor. However, I followed my Mom’s advice to train as a legal secretary first. I was reluctant to go down this route to law but I agreed. On reflection, training as a legal secretary taught me good organisational and interpersonal skills that have helped me both in my legal and business career.
I was lucky enough to work for a partner in the commercial and business law sector in my first job as a legal secretary. Our paths crossed again in the late 90s and she encouraged me to go for it and study for a law degree, providing a letter of recommendation for me to study law as a mature student. She later became Her Honor Judge Frances Kirkham and we have remained friends. Mentors are invaluable because they are influential, and provide encouragement, guidance and direction to an often less experienced and younger person in an organisational setting.
What business can do to encourage inclusivity
It is essential that business encourages inclusion as this creates a positive and collaborative workplace, improves retention and increases performance. In addition, an inclusive workplace helps to increase morale, productivity and the wellbeing of all employees.
As a black women in law I initially struggled to find an inclusive workplace. Most of my colleagues were inclusive but management less so. I decided to move on and join a more inclusive, positive and collaborative workplace in order to protect my mental health and well-being.
In 2020, The Law Society of England and Wales commissioned a BAME research report by DJS Research that provided evidence that more needs to be done to improve racial inclusion in the legal profession. It found that despite firms’ actions, little appeared to be changing in terms of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors’ experience. Although many law firms were doing a lot of work around diversity and inclusion, change was coming too slowly or not at all and more needed to be done:
- In 2020, 10% of lawyers were Asian compared to 7% of the workforce in 2019
- 3% of lawyers were Black matching the workforce in 2019
- 8% of Black, Asian and minority ethnics were partners (in managerial positions) compared to 20% in single partner firms
- Female representation in the legal profession is 54%
The above group were also likely to be pushed towards personal injury, legal aid, immigration, and family work as opposed to the commercial, business and banking sectors.
Almost a third of male solicitors are partners and have a managerial role in law firms compared to female solicitors.
What can we do to change these statistics? I believe that when businesses tender for work they should provide supporting evidence that at all levels they are becoming more diverse and inclusive. More discussion with government is needed to make this mandatory and the IoD should push for this. The fact is, the world has become a smaller place due to technology and the internet, and clients are increasingly expecting to see diverse workforces reflected in the people they work with.
The value of a supportive family
An African proverb states that “It takes a village to raise a child”. This means that family, together with an entire community of people, must interact with children positively for that child to succeed. My mother and grandmother, together with the wider West Indian community, encouraged me to believe that I was the equal of any man or woman. They instilled in me the importance of being respectful of others, working hard and always treating people well. They encouraged me to accept myself for who I am. This is also true of my husband was also very supportive. Surrounding yourself with good, positive people is very important, as is having a purpose and goals.
The importance of volunteering
Giving back to society matters. To progress in your career, you need to volunteer, preferably by doing more outside your sector. When you volunteer, doors open and your networks expand. I volunteered with Birmingham Law Society on a number of committees and eventually became the first black President in its 202 year existence. In addition, volunteering as a trustee for several charities led to a role advising on a business commission where the IoD took an interest and offered me the role of Chair of West Midlands. Volunteering takes up a lot of time and anyone wanting to progress in their careers should recognise that it requires considerable personal investment.
I joined the IoD because I wanted to be part of an organisation that engages with their members by providing support on governance, advises how boards and committees function, and how to deal with conflict issues. Being part of the IoD has given me a taste for governance and this experience should put me in good stead to become a non-executive director.
Women’s strengths in the boardroom
I believe women think outside the box and look at business issues from different angles compared with men because they tend to have broader roles outside work. Women usually have more responsibility for caring for others which requires a lot of multi-tasking. They have to be better organised and focused on what they can and cannot do.
Working from home
Although I support the flexibility that comes from being able to work from home, I don’t think it’s wise to do so full time. Whilst home working was initially welcomed by all, there is concern that working from home on a full time basis can result in losing out on being part of a working culture, developing inter-personal skills and those ‘light bulb’ moments that come from chance conversations. Junior employees fear that it could have an impact on their career development. It is essential that they are in the office at least 2-3 days a week.
The IoD provides a supporting and inclusive membership environment for women who are, or aspire to be Board Directors. It is also the only organisation in the UK to offer a Chartered Director qualification.