Vember Mortlock: Is it still a man’s world? Women in senior management

We often hear the term ‘glass ceiling’ when discussing the issue of women in senior leadership roles, and this sometimes invisible barrier to success is an issue that many women face at some point during their later career.

Globally, the proportion of senior roles held by women hit a high of 25% last year, but within the UK this number actually fell to as little as 19%. Moreover, the percentage of UK firms with no women in senior management roles at all actually rose to 41% in 2017.

On the surface, my career trajectory is what one would expect of any ambitious professional: I joined Roythornes as a qualified solicitor in 1999, working in the agricultural property team. I climbed the ladder to associate, then equity partner, joining the management board in 2007. I became managing partner in 2009, and then managing director when we fully incorporated in 2013.

I never especially had my sights set on a management role. Working to reach the position I am in now actually evolved quite naturally, as continually I grasped opportunities to get stuck in and improve things that I thought could be made better.

Personally, I have never considered gender an issue; if you are confident and good at what you do then by and large this is appreciated across the board, as we all want what is best for the business. Being female was not regarded as some sort of sticking point to reaching managing director level, and good businesses recognise the need to accommodate family life.

Roythornes is a great place for anyone who is self-motivated with a strong work ethic – no one will hold you back if you are ambitious and have the skills to progress – no matter your age, gender or background.

Often, the success of the company is pinned on the ability and positive personal attributes of your team: some are inherent within that particular person, whilst others are developed over time. Most women are by no means shrinking violets who need special treatment, and most men are not bullish and insensitive – these are just out of date stereotypes. In my experience all genders have the potential to make great leaders.

As managing director, I am responsible for ensuring all aspects of the company fit together effectively and the team collaboratively works towards a common goal, guaranteeing long-term profitable returns for the company. This involves strategic planning alongside my fellow directors, and running the management board. I also head up our property department, supervise a team of agricultural property lawyers and still carry out client work.

The key lesson I have learnt on my career journey is that everyone sees things differently and you will never please everyone.

But having the humility to acknowledge that you don’t know everything – and that there is always plenty more to learn, from colleagues across all levels – will go a long way in gaining the trust and respect of your team.

I do think this is a vital consideration for anyone in a senior management role and is very much true regardless of your background or personal circumstance. But does the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ still exist?

Luckily, I have not come across it, but I do see that it is different in some sectors and businesses. I find the concept of boardroom quotas uncomfortable – the best candidate should get the job.

The problem arises when those making the choice are perhaps not the best equipped to do so. Good businesses have a strong mix at the top – and not just gender. I would also counsel against worrying about a glass ceiling – to achieve you need a positive mindset. If you do happen across one, you will need to be even stronger!

Vember Mortlock is managing director of Roythornes Solicitors, a top 150 law firm with long-standing roots in Lincolnshire, including a head office in Spalding.