As a partner at Allen & Overy’s London offices, Däna Burstow has worked for over 20 years advising trustees and employers on the ins and outs of pension law. Along with advising clients on scheme funding negotiations and related contingent assets, scheme mergers, disputes, and enhanced transfer value exercises, Däna has built a successful career, while balancing her personal life.
We chatted with Däna about the negative portrayals of female legal professionals in popular culture, and the effect this can have on a woman’s decision to seek advancement in their organisation. Her key to success in this area is to form a realistic attitude. Whilst modern society is replete with the portrayal of female perfectionism, it is much harder to find a genuine account of how real women manage to effectively balance their career and private lives. Däna believes that maintaining balance in one’s life is achievable, but she does acknowledge that advancing through the profession can be especially demanding for women. In order to set yourself up for success, she notes that having realistic expectations and determining your priorities is key! For Däna a good handbook on making enough time was found in Laura Vanderkam’s ‘I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time’ wherein the author discusses making time for all of the aspects of our lives. The fight with time is a natural consequence of having a great job, but the concept of time should be viewed on a weekly basis and not in daily slots. Framed in this way, Däna has found more time in her week and is able to more effectively balance her priorities. What all successful professionals have in common is a lack of time, but this is simply a consequence of having an interesting and fulfilling career.
We were curious what Däna thought discouraged women from applying for higher positions in the first place. As she had already alluded to, measuring up to unrealistic ideals of perfection can deter women from pursuing leadership roles. The idea that you MUST have it all perfectly, rather than you CAN have it all doing the best you can, make a very normal fear of failure even more daunting. Däna explained that women tend not to apply for higher positions unless expressly encouraged to do so by others. She drew an interesting connection between the reticence of many women to engage in informal conversations at work, which can be integral to forming mentorship connections and later support in pursuing promotion, and the relatively small numbers of female partners in comparison to their male counterparts.
Däna’s point of view is that we must all encourage the spread of modern practices so that old fashioned practices no longer systemically hinder the success of women. More balanced parental responsibilities is but one example of positive change in this area. Recruitment practices that use diversity as a merit criterion would also maintain the high standards expected from those entering the legal profession, while also promoting equality amongst men and women.