Leading the Way: First hand accounts from female leaders of industry

Leading the Way:first hand accounts from female leaders of industry

Mini Series

Our Chief Reporter, Phoebe Sennet, interviews Kathleen Russ, Senior Partner of leading law firm Travers Smith.In the first part of our new mini series, Kathleen discusses the challenges she overcame when climbing the ranks in the industry, the barriers female leaders face and her culture driven approach to diversity and inclusion.

Tell us a bit about yourself I am the senior partner at Travers Smith. In that capacity, I chair our partnership board which is responsible for setting the firm's strategy, as well as covering the core pillars of performance, risk and people. The responsibilities of the Board are wide ranging which makes the role fascinating. It is also challenging at times. That was particularly so when we were faced with the consequences of the pandemic over the last couple of years. I also chair both our diversity and inclusion and environmental boards. I have chosen to do so because of the importance that I place on those issues.I am also very focused on clients and spend a lot of my time talking to clients and thinking proactively about the demands of the market; no law firm can ever maintain its success unless it remains focused on the client service it provides.Outside my role as senior partner, I am a private equity tax lawyer. I have always enjoyed combining the deep technical thinking that you need as a tax lawyer, with the commercial dynamics of a deal. I've never lost my love of the adrenaline kick which comes from a successfully negotiated transaction.Alongside all of that I am the mother of two grown up sons and my role as a mother and wife are of huge importance to me. What challenges did you face when climbing the ranks in your industry?When I became a senior associate, I began to look around me and to realise how few women there were in senior positions both within the firm, and in the City more widely. At the same time, I started to realise how few of my clients were women. As a I was embarking on the partnership track, I knew that developing my own client base was important, but I found some of the traditional networking routes very challenging. It took me a long time to realise that I could develop my client base in my own way; and that this could be successful even if it was different from how many of my colleagues had developed theirs. What advice would you give to young professionals when entering your industry?Try to watch and learn from how others have developed their own careers but don’t make the mistake of trying to copy those people, however much you admire them. Instead reflect on what works best for you and have the confidence to develop your own style. And as one of my friends and partners once said to me :-"Do not make the mistake of looking at the wonderful, admirable qualities and skills in everyone around you and assume you need to replicate everyone one of those; instead accept your own strengths, develop and exploit them".What policy changes have you implemented to encourage greater diversity and equality of opportunities within your organisation? Diversity and inclusion isn't something that you can deal with as a standalone issue. As Tom Ilube CBE said in a recent article, "You can't see diversity as an issue to deal with before you get onto the "real" business….Nobody thinks, “We need to get finance done and out of the way and then get back to business”. Diversity and inclusion is no different. To succeedin creating a genuinely inclusive environment, no single policy will ever create the change which is needed; instead you have to apply a D&I lens to everything that you are doing. With the wrong culture, nothing will change irrespective of the number of policies you introduce. With the right culture, anything is possible.What do you consider as being the barriers for female leaders?  For women to succeed, it is a prerequisite that you create an environment in which both talented men and women are able to assume leadership roles. Most organisations are focused on that objective and some, but not all, achieve this. But, in my mind, it is a mistake to think that this is enough. Instead you also have to create an environment in which womenwantto take on those roles. It is only if organisations also get this right, that you can start to take huge steps forward.The legal world is not perfect but it is changing for the better and I am proud to be part of that change.