It was great to see such a strong turnout for this event, especially in terms of female attendees.
After the opportunity to network over a festive lunch, Katherine Megson, Innovation Events & Programmes Manager at Bruntwood SciTech, welcomed the delegates and encouraged them to help spread the word about the new ‘Women in LegalTech’ event programme, particularly to their male colleagues, noting that it would be great to see more men at future events.
Bruntwood SciTech is strong supporter of diversity and inclusion, including running a highly acclaimed Female Founders Incubator for entrepreneurs, a programme which has been the source of multiple speakers at LegalTech in Leeds events.
Chloe Thompson, Consultant at Whitecap Consulting/LegalTech in Leeds, then provided an overview of the LegalTech in Leeds initiative and explained why we have chosen to introduce ‘Women in LegalTech’ to the event series.
Chloe highlighted some of the key gender equality challenges that still exist in the workplace today, particularly across legal and tech, stating that both sectors experience a gender pay gap and there are significantly less women in leadership roles (65% of law firm partners are men and 77% of director roles in the tech sector are filled by men).
As well as the introduction of ‘Women in LegalTech’, LegalTech in Leeds has been tracking its speaker diversity at events since its inception in 2022. At the end of 2022, LegalTech in Leeds had a 70:30 split of male:female speakers at events, which has since improved to 60:40, but set against a target of 50:50 there is still more work to do.
Panel discussion: Women in LegalTech
The main focus of the event was a panel discussion, which was chaired by Deb Hetherington, Head of Innovation at Bruntwood SciTech. Deb worked in the legal sector at a mid-sized law firm, before moving on to work at Leeds Beckett University and then joining Bruntwood SciTech. Deb is a passionate champion of diversity, inclusion and innovation, making her the ideal person to facilitate this discussion.
Laura Pilkington is Senior Manager for Innovation and Technology at Addleshaw Goddard. Laura talked about day-to-day barriers she has encountered in her career, and also the challenges that balancing a career and family life presented to her. Addleshaw Goddard was the first law firm to sign up to the BBC’s 50:50 Project, which aims to create cultural change by ensuring that there is a diversity of voice in all content that is produced by the broadcaster.
Susan Ford is Head of Knowledge at DAC Beachcroft. Susan reflected that she has had some very supportive managers, both male and female. She also said that she would be more likely to challenge sexist behaviour today than would have been the case when she was a junior lawyer. As the mother of a 7-year-old boy, Susan considers that it is important for adults to be very aware of the impact of their interactions with children from an early age, and for things like colours to not be associated with specific sexes.
Tori Corser-Sproson is Legal Operations Executive at Bupa. One of her points was that women should not feel the need to over explain themselves or apologise for making a fair request as if someone requires further explanation, they will ask for it. Tori said she benefits from strong support of Bupa’s General Counsel, who is male, and that it is important to make men feel welcome to be part of events like this one, and to not feel afraid to speak up and contribute. Bupa has an inclusion programme called ‘Be You at Bupa’ which aims to promote inclusion on all fronts, not only in relation to gender.
Alex Lennox is Director of Growth and Strategic Partnerships at Orbital Witness. Alex trained at Freshfields and prior to joining Orbital Witness was leading LawtechUK, which is when we got to know her at LegalTech in Leeds. Alex said earlier in her career she sometimes found herself as the only female in the room, which could be very intimidating as a junior lawyer. She also found that activities were often very male orientated, such as going to rugby matches, but that this was not deliberate and was more a consequence of decisions being made by men. Alex observed that there is more awareness of gender bias today, but the statistics are still quite alarming, and this begs the questions of what more should be done.
Deb posed the question of the importance of male role models, which led to a panel discussion around making people feel included and welcome. The panel agreed that it’s important for men to be included in discussions and to feel part of the debate. It should not be the case that the presence of women (or indeed the lack of presence of women) is seen as a problem.
The discussion moved on to how we can make changes that can positively influence the data points about diversity in the legal sector. The panel discussed initiatives such as getting female leaders into schools to provide role models to young girls, and the importance of this happening at a young age. Deb reminded us of the phrase “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it”.
Technology in the legal sector
The panel then moved on to discuss the use of technology and AI in the legal sector, and how this might impact gender diversity. Laura highlighted the risk that historic data might have gender bias, which would mean that the outputs of AI would also have gender bias.
Tori spoke about the need to remove the bias out of the AI by training it, but highlighted what a huge task this is and used the example of asking AI to create an image of the current president which produced an inaccurate and bias result based on historical figures being male dominated (for example past US Presidents).
Alex mentioned that there are other important considerations for women that are often ignored such as the design and functionality of some smart watches and the inability to track menstrual cycles.
Not all of the discussion was focused on gender diversity, the panel also covered some of the LegalTech tools that they are using in their organisations, particularly focusing on automation of processes and the importance of the role of people.
Generative AI was a hot topic, as is usually the case at our events. Alex explained that AI can be additive to the work of the legal sector, rather than replacing it. While this has many benefits, it also means we need to change the way lawyers are trained. Tori shared that Bupa has been running AI workshops for lawyers, to help them understand how AI works and can support them in their roles, and that this had been a very enlightening process for the lawyers.
As a closing question, the panel was asked what they would say to their 18-year-old self, to which they replied that they would encourage themselves to not worry too much about the small things, feel deserving to be in the room and part of the conversation and have confidence in your ability.
This was the final LegalTech in Leeds event of 2023, a year which has seen us run 23 events across in person and virtual format. The 2024 programme is already taking shape with a number of events already announced on the website, including our 2024 annual conference on 18th April and our second Women in LegalTech event on 17th April.
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