How Sally Macindoe changed a law firm - Women's Agenda

How Sally Macindoe changed a law firm

Law firm partner, mum, global diversity head and champion of change: Sally Macindoe’s day starts with school lunches and ends with evening teleconferences with colleagues around the world.

It’s a schedule that’s seen Sally take the lead on major change for women at her law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, including a doubling of the number of female partners and senior associates since 2005, as well as twice as many women working flexibly. She’s overhauled the firm’s cultural and structural response to women in leadership while running a busy practice and maintaining a number of leadership positions with the firm at the same time, including as chairman.

How did she manage such significant results? First, she had to jump at opportunities to grab the leadership positions of influence she needed in order to instigate change and inspire others to join her on the journey. Sally credits the support of mentors, role models, sponsors and babysitters in aiding her career, but also knows that leadership’s in her ‘DNA’ and that she’s put in the hard work to get the results for positive change. She sees the value in documenting her achievements and speaking up about them when appropriate, and encourages more women to stop waiting to get noticed and start talking about their successes instead.

Her work saw her named our 2013 champion of change at the NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards earlier this year. Below we ask about her leadership career, some of the key barriers still confronting women at work and what’s on her agenda for 2014.

What’s an average day for you? What are some of the key leadership challenges you deal with?

It’s an early start with school lunches, the shower shuffle, calendar check and developing a day plan before the phone and email traffic starts. Meetings, site visits and court attendances are all part of my work in client practice. Travel days are more focused on national team management, and my diversity and inclusion roles. Many days end with evening teleconferences with colleagues in different time zones. Every day is different and the more intense the day, the more I feel I’ve achieved.

One of the key leadership challenges I deal with on a daily basis is time management and balancing practice and client needs with firm management roles. In my role as Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, a key challenge is understanding the different cultural, regulatory and business driven priorities in different jurisdictions and keeping diversity and inclusion principles front of mind for the leadership group in all decision making.

Experience, guidance, education or all three? How did you learn what you know about leadership?

All three. My experience started at school where I held a number of leadership positions, it is part of my DNA. I have learnt to listen and embrace guidance offered. Even if I choose not to adopt it, I at least always consider it. Playing devil’s advocate and learning to see problems from another perspective is half of the battle to resolving them. I have undertaken education that assists leadership, perhaps the most valuable being the AGSM’s Driving performance in professional services firms in 2006, and more recently inclusive leadership training.

Sponsors, mentors, babysitters or role models? What kind of advice/help has most assisted your career and why?

Babysitters are an essential element of the domestic support crew for working parents but they ought not be required in the workplace! Sponsors, mentors and role models are all invaluable influences in career progression. Sometimes role models and mentors are one and the same but you gain what you invest in such precious relationships, it’s a two way street. There is no doubt my career has benefited from the sponsorship of both men and women. I believe we need to earn the sponsorship of those who offer and provide it, sometimes people can have a misguided sense of entitlement. Without the gentle prod of a sponsor I may not have had the courage to step up and take the opportunities provided to me.

What key turning point that has put you in the career you are in and gotten you to where you are today?

There are 2 that come to mind immediately:

The first came in 1997 after I had a session with Gerry Riskin (currently Edge International), who worked with David Maister at the time. This session inspired me to take the risk and focus on what I was passionate about in the law. It led me to pursue the opportunity of returning from my first stint of maternity leave to focus on that passion. I am proud of the leading planning and environment legal practice we have built up since.

The second turning point followed a short conversation with my then chief executive partner that encouraged me to stand for election to our (then) board in 2005.

What are some of the key barriers for women in professional services you believe could change with the right leadership available?

Our willingness to sponsor and support flexible and different ways of working despite real and perceived concerns about doing it differently to the way we have been used to delivering services. Assumptions and biases that can impact upon management decision-making if not recognised and confronted. An ill-informed misconception that given the pipeline of women entering professional services is so strong, eventually equalisation of gender representation at more senior levels will just happen.

Aside from entering the leadership awards, what advice would you have for women who want to better get recognised for the businesses they build and the career success they achieve?

Don’t be frightened of ensuring people are aware of your achievements and successes. Women often expect managers will just see their successes and recognise and promote them accordingly. That’s an unrealistic expectation of busy managers and leaders. Make it easy for them and report your successes in a professional manner (managers love to have success stories to include in their own reports). Keep good records and ensure you plan for performance reviews and get the most out of them. Step up and put yourself out there when appropriate.

What’s on the agenda for you in 2014?

I will start the year with a holiday with my children as part of my long service leave. In addition to focusing on my practice, throughout the year I will be implementing our global diversity and inclusion strategy for Norton Rose Fulbright in my role as Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion. I am really looking forward to learning best practice from our various member firms and sharing it for the benefit of our staff and clients globally.

Do you know a change champion or mentor who deserves to win a 2014 NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Award? Nominate them today.

Or nominate yourself as an emerging leader in the private, public, not-for-profit or small business sectors.

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