Mandy Gill is a commercial property solicitor at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors and a committee member on the Women in Planning West Midlands branch.
Irwin Mitchell Solicitors is a full service national law firm with fifteen offices and I am based in the Birmingham office. My workload ranges from acting for commercial developers with strategic land acquisitions and management to general commercial property disposals, acquisitions and refinancing. One piece of advice I would give to my younger self is to embrace every opportunity offered. Women typically suffer from Imposter Syndrome more than men and this impacts on confidence and ultimately career progression in the long term. Every experience, good or bad, adds to your skill set; which makes you unique. How did you get into the legal industry and how did you decide which sector to focus your career on? I always wanted to be a criminal lawyer and was enticed by the audience grabbing performances by barristers at murder trials in the soaps. I attended Keele University and was introduced to the different specialisms a law career can offer. After attending several vacation schemes at law firms, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a commercial property solicitor and I have never looked back. What interests me about commercial property is the variety of the work. Within the real estate sector there are different subdivisions which range from residential, to commercial development sites, to landlord and tenant work. No two days are ever the same. Do you think support for young people at the beginning of their careers has changed since you were starting out? Support has definitely improved and there are more initiatives aimed at encouraging young people into further education ranging from GCSE level through to university. Irwin Mitchell’s IM Aspiring group is involved with the PRIME Initiative which is a consortium of law firms aiming to improve social mobility in the legal sector. Irwin Mitchell invites a number of school leavers from restricted social mobility backgrounds for work experience placements every year. The introduction of university tuition fees has added a considerable amount of pressure on students, particularly those from lower social backgrounds and ethnic minorities. Undertaking further study brings debt and students need to be absolutely certain that a particular career is right for them. Within Irwin Mitchell, there are several other initiatives set up to assist with social inclusion and diversity such as IM Equal which is aimed at raising awareness of issues for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees and clients; IM Powered focuses on promoting gender equality; IM Respect raises awareness of the cultural and ethnic diversity; IM Able highlights areas where greater support and assistance to those with disabilities or issues impacting on mental health and wellbeing; and IM Age focusses on issues related to age. Steering groups for each initiative enable everyone to voice their experiences, no matter what their circumstances and this in turn can assist with breaking down the barriers which can limit career progression. As a testament to Irwin Mitchell’s commitment to diversity, the firm is a Stonewall Diversity Champion member and is listed eleventh in the Stonewall’s top 20 LGBT law firms. Outside Irwin Mitchell, there are many opportunities to meet other professionals in Birmingham. For example, through the Birmingham Professional Services (BPS) Network, professionals from different sectors can attend a variety of events or sector specific initiatives such as Women in Planning and Women in Property which also offer mentoring programmes. How do you think the industry has changed over the past 10 years? Do you think it is becoming less male dominated? The legal industry is definitely becoming less male dominated and there is evidence that females are catching up in terms of promotions to senior positions compared to their male counterparts. At Irwin Mitchell, 44% of partners and 30% of the Executive Board are now women. Nevertheless, there is always more that can be done. For example, I have struggled to attend external CPD and networking events hosted before or after work due to childcare commitments. The time of the event immediately excludes working parents from attendance. Women in Planning recognise this and have actively hosted events during the working day to include working parents. However, in a drive towards diversity and inclusion in the sector, event organisers need to be mindful that it is not lack of commitment preventing parents attending, it is simply logistics. The industry has moved forward in terms of introducing policies such as agile working, working flexible hours and home working. However these policies are only as effective as your line manager allows. Coming from a demographic of females which has traditionally taken a step back due to inflexibility of work and managing family life, I feel that I am supported enough to work around my personal commitments whilst maintaining a healthy work life balance. In spite of this, I am aware that my experience is not typical of other working parents. I believe that active encouragement of employees to embrace these policies from senior managers will be a positive move to pave the way for more people from diverse backgrounds to enter the profession, remain in the profession and reach the glass ceiling.