FV founding member Harriet Sassoon provides advice to the next generation of women in business.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Rising through the ranks between the age of 30-40. It seems to me that during this decade many men push on in their career and make it to senior positions where as for lots of women this is often biologically a difficult decade of decisions and as a result a lot of head space is taken up with contemplation of different senarios. One decision that seems common place amongst my friends is whether or not to go make a career jump, either because they are bored with their current role or because they are keen to progress and their current work place lacks the opportunities that they are seeking. A big reason against moving is often the worry that should they want to have a baby, the maternity package may not be as good, or they would feel bad moving to a new job then getting pregnant. These are valid concerns, but remember if you don’t move, that job might be even harder to go back to after one baby, let alone two or three. My advice would be move now. Keep progressing. You are more likely to want to continue working during this decade if you are somewhere you enjoy being.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Being competitive helps. I also love the satisfaction of knowing that something has been done well and enjoy being able to progress onto the next challenge. I’ve learnt that the ability to motivate the team around me is as important as motivating myself. Never underestimate the power of being positive.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
Ah so many things! The first: don’t take it personally, it’s just business; move on. Whilst it would be great if every boss had the soft skills to motivate a team, many of them don’t, and at the end of the day, often the dollar figures are what counts most to them and keep the institution going. The second: if they can do it, you can do it. Take a look around, I bet someone in the world who has a similar academic record and work experience as you is nailing your dream job. Grit and determination will get you there; you just have to stick at it (also find them and send them an email…!). The third: something my uncle said to me when I got my training contract at Morrison & Foerster: remember there will always be someone younger, better and more brilliant than you. I remember being quite shocked when I heard this as it seemed pretty harsh given the context, but it has actually been incredibly helpful as I recognised it was true. Working with brilliant young people and watching them reach their potential is exciting. Find them and help promote them. Pulling up the ladder behind you is unacceptable.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?
My son, Leo.
What would be your advice for women who are building a career in the industry you work in?
Law is a fantastic career for women and, at the outset, you may find more women in your intake than men. Don’t underestimate how that will change later on; go in with your eyes open. Seek out progressive firms with strong working policies geared towards mothers. For a large law firm, I think less than six months full pay for maternity leave is outdated. At MoFo they have some excellent initiatives: the month before you go on leave, your hour targets are reduced by 50%, this is also the case for the first month you return to work; they pay for your breast pump; and if you go back to work whilst you are still breast feeding and have to go away for meetings, they will courier your milk home to the baby. Flexibility is key, regardless of whether you are looking to start a family, if you love your job but are getting tired at work think about reducing your hours or asking about a four day week so you can do something you would like to do. It may also be seen by the firm as commercially beneficial, particularly if the department is having a slow year.
What is your own personal mantra?
Work hard, play hard.
Harriet is a member of Morrison & Foerster’s global anti-bribery and anti-corruption team. Besides work, Harriet is a founding member of Fractio Vitri, a supporter of You Make It!, a charity assisting young unemployed women in the inner city, and a champion of First 100 Years, a history project celebrating the centenary of women being permitted to practice law in the UK. Harriet is also involved in the inspiring the future programme.