Kathleen Russ: Learn what diversity means for your organisation
Kathleen Russ is the Senior Partner at Travers Smith, specialising in private equity transactions and regularly acts for both institutional investors and management teams. Much sought after for her technical expertise and commercial outlook, Kathleen is a great addition to the Women in Law Awards judging panel. We asked Kathleen about her views on the profession and the legal industry.
Is there an awards category that intrigues you most? Why?
Diversity project of the year. These new Women in Law Awards are focused on gender diversity and this remains a key issue in the legal industry. However, I strongly believe that the diversity focus for the legal industry needs to be wider than that. For this reason, I will be very interested by diversity projects which go beyond gender and will be particularly interested by projects which approach these issues on an intersectional basis.
What will you be looking for as a judge in these awards?
I am always more focused on what people actually do rather than just on what they say they do! In order to tell a story effectively, you have to have a good story to tell in the first place. Too many people focus on the "messaging" rather than the "doing" and, ultimately, it is the "doing" that matters the most.
What advice would you give your newly qualified self?
Have the confidence to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and in doing so, focus on what you can achieve if it goes well, rather than worrying about whether you will fail. By this, I don't mean doing something that absolutely terrifies you! Instead, I mean being willing to regularly challenge yourself to do something which pushes you a little bit beyond your comfort zone. Over time, you will find this willingness to extend yourself will translate into big strides forward. One of my sons plays sport professionally and, when competing, he talks a lot about the need to strive for success rather than fear failure. That same positive mindset is also relevant in the legal world.
Who is/was the professional mentor in your life that you most admire? Why?
I wouldn't say I have a single mentor. Instead, I try to surround myself with excellent people, and through this, take the opportunity to learn from a myriad of different people within and outset this law firm at all levels of seniority. I am also very conscious of my responsibility to mentor others, and to encourage others to do the same. One person I have consistently learnt from is my partner, Mahesh Varia. He heads up our Incentives and Remuneration practice as well as leading our BAME network group. He has built a market leading practice through his practical, client focused, legal advice and is a constant reminder of what you can achieve through legal excellence, talent, excellent people management and drive. He is a great lawyer with a deep understanding of the business of law. I admire him hugely.
Provide an example of a recent initiative/product/service that seeks to improve diversity and inclusion in the legal profession that you admire
I am very impressed by STRIVE. STRIVE is an organisation which was set up in October 2018 by several people including one of our current trainees. It is an organisation which is focused on mentoring those from less privileged backgrounds in order to give them a greater opportunity to access a career at a City law firm. It is making great strides and recently won Recruiting Diverse Talent Award at the UK Legal Diversity Awards. In their own words - "STIRVE is built on the experiences of being a state school candidate, female, BAME and Muslim where we found ourselves to be a minority at every stage of the process"…. "We are here to redefine diversity beyond categories of race and gender and make representative diversity in the City a reality"
The deadline for nominations is at 5pm on Friday 10 January 2020.