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Inspire inclusion: My career journey

13 March 2024
Read Raeesa Chowdhury's inspiring story of her career journey all the way to partner at a global legal business.

"Inspire inclusion" is the campaign theme for International Woman's Day 2024. The IWD's website defines this theme as twofold: inspiring others to understand and value women, and women becoming inspired to be included. This simple, yet (in my opinion) effective theme for IWD 2024 will mean something different to every person. For me personally, my first thoughts were how inspired and included I felt, following my recent promotion to the partnership at DWF, at both achieving a career goal that I thought was something akin to seeing pigs fly and becoming part of what I had always thought was a male members club. 

The diversity of law firm partnerships has seen significant change since I started interviewing for training contracts back in 2008/2009. I recall being interviewed at most (if not all) law firms where I had successfully secured an interview or assessment day by one or more male partners. Female partners at that time represented a small proportion of all partners at law firms and, certainly at the firm at which I trained, a substantial number of those female partners had fearsome reputations of either being too difficult to work for, or generally making their junior lawyers' lives hell. I fondly remember that female trainees in my intake were prohibited from applying for one seat as the Graduate Recruitment team would only ever place a male trainee in that seat, due to the female supervising partner being both an incredibly demanding woman and someone who allegedly didn't like female trainees. 

I know what you're thinking having read the above: frankly it is outrageous behaviour which would (I hope) not be tolerated at any law firm today. I've conjectured since if she exhibited such traits due to (I imagine) her having had to push harder and further to achieve law firm partnership in a more male dominated world. But still; that's no excuse for behaviour which contradicts everything IWD stands for, not least this year's campaign theme. 

Fast forward to now, the gender diversity gap in law firms has seen a marked improvement. Law firms are now actively promoting more and more women to senior positions with the latest statistics from the SRA as at December 2023 showing 37% of partners across law firms being women. Statistics will differ from firm to firm and each firm will have its own targets in respect of gender diversity; however it goes to show some progress toward achieving the goal of equality between the sexes – and what were grass roots are now grass shoots. 

My own path to partnership is different to most people, as I was lucky to experience working in two jurisdictions over my career to date. Following qualification in November 2013, I took the view that I wanted to work in the Middle East for a few years, not least because my final seat was an international secondment in Dubai and I simply didn't want the holiday I had been on for the last six months to end (who wouldn't). I have no regrets in having done this – in fact I am a strong advocate of people working in another jurisdiction during their career as I believe it teaches you so much more in terms of work and life skills. 

I found working in the Middle East invaluable in many ways – but above all, it demonstrated to me how successful a business can be with a diverse workforce, in terms of both gender and ethnicity. The cross-border nature of the work I undertook and the people (both peers and clients) that I met whilst I lived and worked there provided me with a rich tapestry of experience which I would not have had if I had stayed in London on qualification.  

After around 3.5 years in the Middle East, I was keen to move back to the UK to establish my career in London. By good fortune (and particularly after the firm's Middle East Managing Partner made some calls to the London teams) I was given the opportunity to join the London Corporate Insurance team and I transferred back to the London office. I worked at the firm for another two years before I decided it was time to move on. 

You may wonder why, given the experiences and opportunities I was afforded at that firm and their dedication to my career (having transferred me back to London, put me on several special programs and giving me the opportunity to do a secondment in New York (which sadly never came to fruition as I resigned before I took that opportunity)), I decided to leave. 

This question was asked of me at all the interviews I attended with various law firms. My response? Well – my decision to leave crystallised when it was made clear to me that I would not be promoted to Senior Associate before being 6 years PQE, despite the fact I had an excellent work record throughout my time from qualification and on many occasions I outperformed my PQE level. I realised that perhaps to get the Senior Associate promotion I wanted and support for my long-term career aspirations, I would have to jump ship. 

In choosing my next firm, I had three key "wants": namely, a firm with a good work life balance, a supportive environment and a diverse workforce. This is why, having received offers from various law firms, I elected to join DWF. 

From my first day at DWF to today, I am continually assured that I made the right decision. Not only is DWF diverse in terms of what it offers to clients (business services as well as legal services) but it has a very diverse workforce. I recently realised that our team in particular is so diverse that we have a huge range of different language speakers, including French, Korean, Japanese, Arabic and Hindi speakers. It also goes without saying that I have been supported in my career aspirations from day one. I joined DWF as a Senior Associate, was promoted to Director two years later and finally two years after that to the partnership. I am genuinely grateful to my managers for their continued support in helping me to achieve what I once thought was merely a fantastical goal.  

Inspire inclusion

This year's IWD theme resonates with me not only for the reasons outlined in this blog but because it is due to inclusivity (and my managers "inspiring inclusion") that I have achieved one of my career goals in making partner. I never want to be known for having a fearsome reputation or being difficult to work with. My goal going forward, as a woman in a senior position, is to inspire confidence in my peers, provide a supportive environment to nurture and cultivate new talent and continue to work with others toward achieving greater gender diversity in the legal profession. 

I commit to always being supportive, not obstructive. 
I commit to always #InspireInclusion. 
I hope you will do the same.

Diversity & inclusion
At DWF we aim to create an inclusive environment where you can bring your whole self to work and enable our diversity to truly flourish. Find out more