Amandla! Woman to Watch
Director of Woza Women in Law South Africa and Woza Women in Law and Leadership Academy
Born in a country of absent opportunity, and unequal race based education I was conscientized from a tender age about the social injustices of apartheid, the hierarchy and limitations of one’s birth and race. A further dimension to this awareness around discrimination and prejudice was the Indian caste system which was rife in the “Indian” segregated community I was born into. Apartheid’s enabler was clearly the legislation which institutionalised racial discrimination and life as I knew it. Hence, it became abundantly apparent that if I wanted to make difference it would be through one of humanities most noble professions - Law!
Walking into the Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP offices on Fifth Avenue, New York to work on The Bank of Credit and Commerce International “BCCI” described as "the largest bank fraud in world financial history”. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that this would be possible for a girl from a township with inferior education.
“Hindsight, to me personally is a useless tool. I am where I am at because of the decisions I have made. So I accept my past experiences... and try to regret nothing, because I cannot change it anyway”. To paraphrase R.A. Salvatore, Sea of Swords.
As a Director of Woza Women in Law South Africa we hosted roundtables in 2019, to identify why women in the profession were not advancing on an equal basis compared to their male counterparts. The conversations revealed that traditional societal expectations of women as “mothers” and “wives” created professional barriers. Employers believed that women could not dedicate sufficient time and commitment to their professional duties. Family criticised ambitious women as “bad mothers” or “bad wives”. Gender stereotyping pegged women as too “emotional or soft” limiting their briefs to restricted areas of law creating significant skills deficits, skewed briefing patterns, impacting the fees they commanded exacerbating gender pay gaps. COVID-19 fast tracked the issue working from home and flexible working hours. Unconscious bias, skills deficits in specialised areas of law, skewed briefing patterns and the gender pay gap, remain the core impediments procrastinating the advancement of Women in Law in South Africa.
The suicide of two successful women lawyer colleagues in the past eight months, jolted me into realising that I was guilty of trivialising mental and financial wellness, which are undeniably the cornerstones to surviving the pressures of the legal profession. As women in law we are expected to be Superwoman! Juggling roles! Professionally and personally constantly striving to outer perform in order to keep up. As problem solvers, we are not expected to have problems. Traversing these stresses in isolation frequently results in depression, suicide and even substance abuse. Sisters we are not alone, we all at some point feel overwhelmed, and it’s ok. So reach out, to a peer, a professional, or helpline. Stay connected, laugh, remain positive, join a sisterhood. Be comforted that resilience is inherent and you will bounce back. Continuous mental and financial wellness education and support is quintessential and should be included in our legal curriculums. Financial stress through education and planning can be mitigated.