As part of its Gender Diversity Ambassador Series, Women Mean Business (WMB) interviews Matheson partner Liz Grace about gender diversity at Matheson and how the firm has recieved Irish and international recognition for its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Matheson proudly supports the annual WMB Conference and Awards, dedicated to highlighting the work of both Irish and international businesswomen and for a third year running, sponsored the Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Describe your current role at Matheson.
I am a partner at Matheson, and Communications Strategy Director at the firm. My background is in financial services law. Central to my work is the development, progression and articulation of our strategic communication around the strength, depth and breadth of our firm’s growth. This frequently involves immersing myself in many of the projects which are focussed on developments in service delivery for our clients, and our initiatives which are aimed at shaping the future of work at our firm.
For example, as part of Matheson’s D&I Commitment, earlier this year we launched Matheson Agile, a progressive agile working programme supported by a significant investment in technology; our focus on legal innovation at the firm continues to receive international market recognition; we have expanded our London and Cork offices this year; and we are continuing to work through Brexit uncertainties with our clients. I am also involved in public affairs work at the firm, and our internal communications.
What's the size and scope of the operation?
Matheson is a long-established Irish law firm which can trace its roots back to 1825. Today, the firm operates across six locations globally in Dublin, Cork, London, New York, Palo Alto and San Francisco. Our corporate strategy is to be the law firm of choice for internationally focussed companies and financial institutions doing business in and from Ireland, and we have over 750 people, from over 17 nationalities, working across our six office locations, including 96 partners and tax principals, and over 470 legal and tax professionals.
Reflecting its Irish and international focus and experience, Matheson’s five core values of partnership, respect, innovation, diversity and entrepreneurship are at the centre of our service delivery model. Our expertise is spread across more than 30 legal practice groups, and our broad and interconnected industry and sectoral expertise allows us to provide the full range of legal advice and services to our clients. As part of our culture at the firm, we work collaboratively across all areas of the business, reinforcing a client-first ethos among our people. Our client base includes over half of the world’s 50 largest banks, 6 of the world’s 10 largest asset managers, 7 of the top 10 global technology brands, and we have advised the majority of the Fortune 100.
How important is it to have role models in business today?
Since first becoming involved with the WMB awards back in 2015, I have become even more aware of how important it is to have inspiring female role models and mentors around you! At our firm, we believe that it is not just for a small group of people to act as role models, it is incumbent upon all of us to strive to do so in whatever way we can – and as a female I have some great male role models and mentors too – this cannot be underestimated!
Who are your role models?
There are quite a few! I would have to say that my colleagues Michael Jackson and Tara Doyle with whom I have worked for a very long number of years now have been role models all the way throughout my career. I would also include Liam Quirke and Sharon Daly. Lorraine Roche and Nicola White are two hugely inspiring colleagues who have been very good to me. And this year, we have been joined at the firm by Jackie Brannigan who I am thoroughly enjoying working with as we move towards some of the next big projects into 2020! Closer to home, my mother Betty Manning, a former Mayor of Kilkenny, is my earliest (and continuing!) role model. My very close friend of over 30 years, Siobhán O’Shea, is always a constant inspiration.
Tell us about your career choice and journey.
I grew up with a love for drawing and painting, but decided in the end to do law instead of art. I was fortunate to get to study a mix of law, economics and financial services at Trinity College, Oxford University, Harvard University and University College Dublin. From early on in my career as a solicitor at Matheson, I got into the area of financial services. I chose that industry as there was a lot of new law emerging in the area and so it was a very exciting field to practice in. I then specialised in asset management and investment funds law. Subsequently, I established the first dedicated Knowledge Function at practice level in the firm which focussed on the policy, law and regulation of investment funds and asset managers, and on client and stakeholder communications.
A few years on in 2012, I had an amazing opportunity to write the first university Funds Law syllabus in Ireland for Maynooth University. The collaboration from this partnership with Maynooth also resulted in the establishment of the annual Matheson Funds Law Internship Awards. Both of these initiatives are still running today, something I am very happy about as I believe that partnerships such as these between academia and industry are vital in order to develop the skills base necessary to ensure Ireland’s continued success in international financial services.
Over these years, Matheson has been very supportive of my evolving role – and in fact has encouraged it, really underpinning our core values of partnership, entrepreneurship and innovation. So much so, that in 2016 I took on the role of Director of Communications Strategy which gave me the opportunity of leveraging my knowledge of Matheson as a firm, our clients and my legal skill set to shape our strategic activity in this area in conjunction with the leadership team.
What motivates you?
To be in a position to effect change in a positive way – not just in a professional capacity but also outside of work.
How has Matheson evolved to accommodate the changing needs of its clients, and its employees?
Matheson is continuously investing in new and advanced service delivery models for our clients which reflect the way in which our clients do business. Our commitment to delivering innovation in digital services solutions for our clients continues – and we are ranked by the Financial Times as Ireland’s most innovative law firm.
Reflecting the values of both our clients and our people, one of our key initiatives this year has been to refresh our diversity and inclusion strategy at Matheson, which operates across six key pillars: gender; generational; family and working parents; disability; multiculturalism and social mobility; and LGBTQ+.
Another example of how we are evolving is the successful launch of our progressive Agile Working Programme at the firm earlier this year to enable greater flexibility and work-life blend. In June, we were the first Irish law firm to receive the Irish Centre for Diversity’s Investors in Diversity Silver Standard and, most recently, we have been ranked Ireland’s most innovative law firm for D&I, and one of the top five law firms in Europe for innovation in D&I by the Financial Times in its Innovative Lawyers Report 2019.
How important is it to have other women visible at management level?
It is very important to have women visible and active in leadership and management roles. I would add to this my thoughts that it should never be the case that there is only ‘room’ or ‘limited spaces’ for a certain number of women in leadership roles or at management level in an organisation.
At Matheson, very high levels of expertise, capability and pro-activity are essential to our business – and promotions are merit-based. Of our partnership, I am pleased to say that 50% of our new partner appointments this year were female; over 36% of our partners are female; and we have been named the seventh most gender diverse law firm in Europe by The Lawyer magazine this year. Women hold key leadership positions across the firm including both in legal practice areas and in our business support functions.
What piece of advice can you pass on to the next generation of hopefuls?
My advice would be that ‘working smart’ is important; treat every day as a learning day in both your professional and personal life; take those learnings and experiences to help you navigate through the challenging times. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and find good mentors. Be generous in your dealings with others – values such as integrity and respect for others should be applied and lived every day.
This feature first appeared on the WMB website (www.womenmeanbusiness.com). It also featured in the WMB’s Autumn e-magazine.