The Say Gap Conference: There is power in the pack

Legal IT Insider’s inaugural The Say Gap conference took place on Friday 1 December, with one attendee saying on LinkedIn afterwards: “It was the most powerful event I have ever been to.”   

 

Around 70 women in private practice, in-house legal, and legal tech attended the event, which teaches women how to find their voice, present in public, and feel empowered in their daily lives. Run in partnership with Cosmonauts and hosted by EY in London Bridge, the star of the day was Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, founder and CEO of Ginger Leadership Communications, who took the audience on a journey from finding an idea worth spreading, to learning how to structure the idea; how to  deliver it; how to overcome nerves and present from a position of confidence; and finally to give the talk itself.   

Opening the conference, myself and Lloyd-Hughes talked about some of the issues in getting women to speak up. Women in many cases don’t make enough time to develop their own brand and are far more likely than men to doubt their abilities, which is why this legal sector conference was born. Lloyd-Hughes explained some of the socialisation issues that impact women, who are typically taught at a young age to be ‘good’ and ‘nice’ but not leaders. While being visible won’t by itself solve all of the diversity issues still facing the legal industry – only 25% of equity partners are female and 3% are women of colour – it is an essential step both for personal career development and to provide more role models for the next generation of women. 

 

The second keynote came from Monica Gogna, a partner at EY Law, who gave an inspiring talk about her career experiences as a British Indian woman and how she has overcome imposter syndrome. “My advice is to be true to yourself,” said Gogna. “Lean in, or out; wear bright colours, or not; lower your voice, or not,” adding, “It does mean that we need to be brave and put our head above the parapet repeatedly.”   

Lloyd-Hughes talked about how the Ted movement changed the game when it came to delivering talks. “It’s not enough to deliver an hour long talk with bullet points,” she said. “It has to be a curated idea that is connected and that enables leaders to show their personality.”  This is not only useful on the stage but gives you “confidence in multiple situations that leave you feeling emboldened and empowered.”  She showed the audience how to sift through a jumble sale of ideas and start to build an argument worth spreading. One powerful example was from work that Lloyd-Hughes has done in the past with a lawyer who turned a jumble of ideas about the importance of collaborating to one simple message, “There is power in the pack.”

Rather than starting a talk by throwing a bunch of slides in the mix, we need instead to work out what the problem is – A – and what the solution is – B. “The end goal is to make people feel that they want to be here,” she said. “Make ‘B’ an attractive place to be.”  

Transporting people from ‘A to B’ involved plenty of physical movement and visualisation, meaning that the day was full of animated discussion.   

When it comes to overcoming the nerves that arise when people are presenting, Ginger’s presence and impact specialist Aneesa Chaudhry demonstrated – with much hilarity – how to overcome the sweaty palm panic that many people feel when they are about to go on stage.  “Make friends with the audience,” she said, “they are not predators.” She also added: “Fake it until you make it, no-one has to know how nervous you are.”   

The James-Lange theory of emotion is that emotions start in the body and are decoded in the brain. If you put your body in a position in which you look confident (shoulders back, head up and feet firmly planted) you stand a better chance of feeling confident. The group experimented with different stances and different styles of delivering their talks, ranging from confident to quirky.   

In one of the few quiet moments of the conference, I interviewed a panel of senior female leaders about their experiences of leadership and public speaking. The panel was made up of Lisa Mayhew, co-chair of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Sharon Thomas, founder and executive director of Black Counsel Forum; Frances Anderson, managing director of Netlaw Media; and Vicky Sandry, former General Counsel of Sky and co-chair of Mission Beyond. The women spoke candidly about some of the challenges of being the only woman in the room, and how those challenges can also be a superpower. Thomas spoke about the additional challenges facing women of colour who make up just 11% of solicitors and 8% of barristers. 

By presentation time, the room had transformed from a group of women who were in many cases nervous at the outset, to a buzz of presentations within groups and then – for a few brave volunteers – on the stage. Lloyd-Hughes encouraged everyone not to look at their notes, and most were surprised to find that they didn’t need them.   

First up on the stage was legal technology and innovation adviser Leila El Gharbi, founder of Beautiful Souls in Legal (Tech), who said on LinkedIn after the event: “Yesterday, I attended the most powerful event I ever had! I was speechless and emotional by the end of the day! ‘The Say Gap’ is about empowering women to bring ideas worth sharing forward and give us that confidence and audacity to bring that energy in our life.”   

Others to give a talk include Jo Owen, the former CIO of Cripps, now a consultant for its central services division; Nienke Malan, counsel in the Jersey office of Carey Olsen; and Lynda Watson, cache developer at Slaughter and May (which sent the most delegates of all firms, in a massive show of support.) Commenting on LinkedIn, Watson said after the event: “Fantastic event! I didn’t start the day intending to speak on the bigger stage, but Sarah did such a brilliant job walking us through building our one idea worth talking about into a mini TED style talk that I gave it a go. Huge kudos to the whole team involved – it was an amazing day!”   

The day concluded with a cameo mini–Ted Talk from Dana Denis-Smith, a Tedx speaker and founder and CEO of legal services provider Obelisk, plus founder of the First 100 Years campaign, which celebrates the first 100 years of women in the legal profession. Denis-Smith gave a very convincing talk on why, more now than ever in the era of AI, children should be taught philosophy in school so they can, at an early age, have an opinion on what is right and wrong.  

The day was sponsored by BigHand, which sent five delegates, including senior lead consultant Vanessa Jerrom, who said on LinkedIn: “It’s a great feeling to come away from a conference with so many practical takeaways, and to have met so many new fabulous connections too. There is power in the pack!”  

It was also powered by legal industry community She Breaks the Law. SBTL’s chief marketing officer Helen Burness said after the event: “What we all took away yesterday, apart from the fact that we inspire others the most when we are ourselves, is to speak before we are ready, and always say YES when we are asked. To every opportunity.” Burness’s ambition is that SBTL’s community is considered by all conference organisers when they are looking for speakers at events. 

The Say Gap conference started out as a concept, and as with any new concept, running it was a risk. But it has quickly become an uplifting movement to help women in legal unite, find their voice, speak with confidence, take forward their ideas, and accept their rightful place on the stage. There is, indeed, power in the pack.

caroline@legaltechnology.com