Get Lucky and Say Yes: Championing Diversity & Inclusion with Dame Fiona Woolf
This blog is the second in a series related to the inaugural season of the Oxford Centre for Criminology Podcast
Dame Fiona Woolf on the power of saying yes.
By Ciara Foley
“Do not be afraid to have a conversation… get lucky and say yes”
Time to read
Dame Fiona Woolf is currently an energy lawyer and has experience working in over forty countries on major reforms in the electricity industry. In 2014 she became the second woman to hold the role of Lord Mayor of London since 1189, and in 2015 was awarded the DBE award for services to the Legal Profession, Diversity and the City of London. During her time as Lord Mayor, and throughout her career, Fiona initiated the Power of Diversity Programme, and has been a champion for promoting diversity and inclusion. Along with some personal career experiences, this is exactly what she spoke about during her recent conversation with Charlotte and Sophie.
Being a woman in law, and the power of asking.
In the last 30 years, women have made up 60% of the new entrants into the legal profession, and there are now more women practising as solicitors than men (The Law Society, 2022). However, the legal profession still faces challenges in making women feel more included. This is something Fiona had to contend with. Though Fiona admits that this was perhaps more ‘in her own head’, she does remember feeling ‘mildly terrified’ when asking for a promotion. This story touches on a broader experience many women have gone through in the workplace: not asking for promotions or raises for fear of being pushy. However, this moment proved pivotal to Fiona and has been influential throughout her career. It proved to her the power of asking because, really, ‘you never know’.
What is the power of diversity?
In 2014 the Power of Diversity Programme was launched to improve diversity in some of the leading companies across London. It is still running, and Fiona is particularly proud about the continued work regarding social mobility. It has enabled ‘talent to rise’ but Fiona does admit this needs to be pushed further - we are still short of ‘women in senior executive positions, relative to men’. This is accurate: out of 100 top companies in the UK, only 8 are headed by women (Kollewe, 2021). Yet Fiona does note the difficulty that can come with being a woman in a visible and public position of power. Media coverage often results in a ‘spotlight’ being placed on women, perhaps because people are ‘just not used to seeing it’.
Setting targets and changing cultures.
More recently, there has been the push for companies to include ‘targets’ in their hiring practices. Fiona has mixed feelings about this. Though it does ensure a means of measurement and holds companies to their word, it does very little to challenge discriminatory culture problems that might be underlying. Non-discriminatory hiring practices also do little to prevent discriminatory promotion tactics, something Fiona has spent time on changing. Allowing talent to rise and ensuring every individual feels included in the workplace is something she feels passionate about: ‘everybody’ needs to ‘develop their own potential’!
Throughout her conversation, one theme that came across was Fiona’s encouragement for people to ‘make their own luck’ and ‘say yes’. Her explicit advice was to think ahead, and be helpful to those around you, but her underlying message was to have confidence in yourself. This is not to take away her work in promoting inclusion and challenging companies to change their culture, but her encouragement to have faith in yourself speaks a message of empowerment. Fiona’s successful career has built numerous partnerships and she continues to push for change in the workplace. From this experience, she encourages everyone to grab new opportunities and say yes, because ‘saying yes involves you having the courage to rise to a new challenge’.
The Law Society, 2022
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):C. Foley. (2022) Get Lucky and Say Yes: Championing Diversity & Inclusion with Dame Fiona Woolf. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/blog-post/2022/09/get-lucky-and-say-yes-championing-diversity-inclusion-dame-fiona-woolf. Accessed on: 06/02/2023