The legal profession, as with many other sectors, is struggling to obtain a gender balance.
However, Victoria Davey, a partner at Leeds-based law firm Gordons, is leading the way when it comes to inspiring and mentoring women in the legal world.
Ms Davey, who has been shortlisted in the Woman Lawyer of the Year category at this year’s Law Society Excellence Awards, has seen many changes in the sector since she qualified in 1995.
She said: “I started through the traditional route of doing law at university, I studied at Lancaster University, and then did a training contract with a firm called Nelson and Cope which was based in Leeds.”
The popular TV show LA Law may have had something to do with Ms Davey’s interest in becoming a lawyer.
“You don’t really have a clear picture of what it’s like until you start doing it. I think at the time LA Law was on television and I thought that looks glamorous,” says Ms Davey, with a wry smile.
After working her way up to partner at Nelson and Cope, the firm was acquired by Gordons in 2004.
Ms Davey admits it was probably one of the greatest challenges of her career having to prove herself all over again, but that Gordons inclusive culture allowed her to work her way on to its board.
Ms Davey said: “I was really lucky that the culture here is one where you can become integrated really quickly. The opportunities are fantastic, within three years of us being acquired by Gordons I was put on the management board.
“In 2007 I joined the management board and I’ve stayed on the management board since then and helped Gordons through its various changes.”
Now she plays a role in mentoring other women who have aspirations of furthering their careers in the legal profession.
Her desire to help other women comes from her own experience as a female lawyer and the help she herself received to get to where she is today.
“I feel like I’ve been really, really fortunate and I don’t feel like I have faced barriers.
“It is still unusual in law to see women at the very top of a firm. It’s great that at Gordons I am in that position and that gives me the opportunity to, I suppose, in a way act as a role model for other women in the firm, who want to progress and who have got aspirations to become partners or ultimate leaders of the business.”
Although Ms Davey concedes that there is a gender imbalance in her wider profession she believes that things are heading in the right direction.
She said: “Having me on the board shows people, the visible proof, that there’s no glass ceiling here. For others that acts as a motivation to keep going.
“But in the legal sector there does remain an under-representation of women.”
There are those who believe that quotas are one way of getting more women into business, but Ms Davey disagrees.
She said: “I’m not a believer in quotas. I do know this from other women that I speak to, they would always feel and I always felt I would rather get to the position I achieved through merit, as opposed to hitting a quota.”
Instead she believes it’s about talking to women and engaging with them. She said: “I think it’s about spending time with people. Helping them develop.
“What are their aspirations? What challenges do they feel they face in getting to those aspirations. It’s about helping them overcome those challenges.
“It could be somebody potentially returning from maternity leave, who feels they need a bit more confidence to get back in the business world, as they’ve taken some time out.
“They’ve got different challenges in their lives now. How can we help them achieve their goals. It is about spending time with people and supporting them.”
Ms Davey said she does her mentoring role in a low key way, spending time with other women, at different levels throughout the business, helping to understand what they feel is holding them back from achieving their own aspirations.
Ms Davey added that it was important to recognise that not everyone’s aspirations are the same. “Not everyone wants to be a partner,” she said.
“It’s saying, what is it that you want to achieve and how can I help you achieve that.”
Ms Davey said having a more diverse board brings a more “balanced view and different perspectives” to a business.
On being nominated for the Law Society Excellence Awards, she says: “It was a great honour to be shortlisted. I’m the only woman in the North to be shortlisted and that’s a nice feeling because often you can still feel that things can be very London centric, so I was really, really pleased.
“Also some of the messages that I got from women here, when the announcement went out, was fabulous. It lifts their spirits to see that recognition.”
As part of the nomination process many women at Gordons provided a testimony on how Ms Davey helped mentor and support them. Looking to the future Ms Davey says that she not only wants to continue to help Gordons be a success “but also help other women”.
She added: “There’s a great team spirit here and I think making sure that everyone feels a part of that regardless of gender would be a great thing.”
Ms Davey says women who are looking to pursue a legal career should look to seek out a mentor.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your own firm. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a woman. Seek out someone who you can speak to in terms of what it is you’re trying to achieve, what you feel is holding you back, whether it’s other people or your own fears,” she said.
Victoria Davey factfile
Title: Partner and operations director at Gordons.
Date of Birth: 20.04.71
First Job: Pattern room assistant in John Foster’s in Queensbury
Favourite holiday destination: Italy
Last book read: Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory
Favourite film: The Godfather II
Favourite song: Sweet Talking Woman by ELO
Car driven: Volvo
Thing that you’re most proud of? The people that I’ve helped train who I see are having fantastic careers
Education: Bradford Girls Grammar School, Lancaster University, York College of Law