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  • Publish Date: Posted over 3 years ago

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day, we caught up with Joan Pettingill, Director & Head of Employment Law & HR at Sheffield-based law firm Wake Smith who shared why she feels it’s important to identify, celebrate and increase visibility of women's achievements to help forge equality.

What do you perceive are the main advantages and disadvantages to being a woman at work?

I’ve really never thought of my own work in terms of being influenced by my gender. There are still, I think, some industry sectors where it may be less common for women to have senior roles and my guess is there may be some small pockets of the legal profession where this might be the case but there have been leaps and bounds in this respect in recent years. At Wake Smith, we are very fortunate to be a vibrant forward-thinking firm including many women in leadership and other influential roles.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Stand back from judging isolated incidents and wait and see how things pan out in the longer run. Things usually work out for the best and things which initially might appear negative often have very positive knock on effects and opportunities. Look for the opportunities in front of you and be true to yourself.

What is your biggest success or challenge completed?

As a younger person, having the determination and ability to be able to break through other people’s limiting perceptions of what can be achieved.

What would be the one change you would make to help forge a gender equal world?

In a work context, embedding a culture of diversity and inclusion and more broadly, supporting diverse role models in visible senior roles.

Who is your female role model and why?

Growing up, I was fortunate to have several female role models; an aunt who was a company secretary and seasoned traveller, a grandmother who as a single parent became a nurse and also built her own property portfolio and of course my own mother who married and settled in England from abroad, worked and brought up a family and who in her nineties is still role modelling kindness, independence and living a full life.

In a professional sense, the Managing Partner of the firm where I trained was an incredibly supportful woman who looked after her trainees and young lawyers professionally and pastorally. More currently, the Supreme Court Judge, Lady Hale, for her courageous decision making.

These days I’m also conscious that others may regard me as a role model and so for me, it’s really important to promote and encourage others to also succeed in the paths of their choosing which is why I’m an executive coach as well as a lawyer.

Joan Pettingill is a highly experienced employment lawyer. She studied law in Newcastle Upon Tyne and is a highly regarded public speaker and professional trainer having delivered courses in employment law, HR and GDPR (


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