Expectations, determination, and mum-guilt: Women in law at Spencer West share their experiences this International Women’s Day

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspire Inclusion’. In line with this, we not only want to celebrate and appreciate the women in our firm; we want to contribute to a collective understanding and valuing of women’s inclusion, both in the legal profession and in society more broadly. We spoke to five high-performing female lawyers at Spencer West and asked them to reflect on their experiences as women in the legal profession. We asked what advice they would give aspiring female lawyers, what firms can do to support female colleagues, and what their hopes are for the future.

Jasmin Dhillon, Partner in Employment and Immigration, is proud to be a part of the progress the legal profession is making towards diversity, and spoke about balancing her career and motherhood through flexible working:

“I am very proud to see the progress the legal profession has taken towards diversity and building a platform for gender equality. I am particularly interested in seeing more women being represented in leadership positions within law firms and other legal institutions.

As a female lawyer, navigating a career whilst balancing the demands of motherhood undoubtedly presents its challenges. My days are often a delicate balance of meetings, deadlines, late nights and bedtime stories. For women such as myself, self-care often features low down on the priority list. In the legal profession, where high-pressure situations are commonplace, self-care is a necessity. Spencer West really understands the need for this. The firm’s flexible working platform ensures its lawyers can take the benefit of downtime, for them to maintain optimum performance levels. It has also enabled women like me to thrive in their careers.

I have strong role models involved in my career, and I enjoy being a successful woman in law. The advancement towards gender equality benefits all, as women have so much to contribute to the legal profession.”

Chantelle Gough is a Partner specialising in Corporate law, Technology and Healthtech. She wants to highlight the importance of law firms taking accountability for the culture they are instilling in their colleagues. She outlines four key factors she has identified to address the challenges associated with balancing a legal career and parenthood.

“For women/working parents in the legal profession, where demands are high and schedules often unpredictable, navigating the responsibilities of both work and family can be particularly daunting. The recent inquest into the tragic death of Vanessa Ford, a Partner in a law firm, highlights the toll that long hours, high pressure, and challenging work, when combined with balancing parenthood and massive amounts of ‘mum-guilt’, can take on mental health.

Law firms need to take account of the culture they are instilling and this needs to be filtered down to senior managers and their teams. With the right approach and support from a flexible employer, it is possible to thrive professionally while maintaining a fulfilling family life. For more support, please do check out the amazing ‘LawCare- the legal mental health & wellbeing charity’ and all the incredible work that they do. All our thoughts are with Vanessa’s friends and family during this time.”

Fudia Smartt, Partner in Employment, talks about the determination she needed to achieve her goals, and how she is hopeful that her children will strive to achieve similar career satisfaction by following her example.

“I’ve had to battle imposter syndrome throughout my career, and I am finally getting to grips with this. Everyday there is the juggle between motherhood, work and trying to find some semblance of balance between. So I have embraced the chaos. I love the work I do and how I can positively help my clients with often tricky employment issues. I think I am a better parent because I have a job that makes me feel that I am positively impacting others and where I am constantly learning new things. I hope my children will find their calling having witnessed both of their parents striving for what they want to achieve.

As I age, I am appreciating the journey I have had thus far and remain ambitious about my future plans. I am proud of where I have got to and I am determined to keep pushing amidst what can sometimes feel exhausting. Working at a firm like Spencer West has given me the freedom to follow all of my career goals and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Bina Gayadien, a Partner specialising in Tax, is celebrating the diverse women who influenced her career through mentorship and support. She envisions a future where women thrive in every aspect of their professional journey and believes that visibility inspires achievement; “if you can see it, you can be it.”

“When I started my career in tax, few looked like me. Fast forward 30 odd years and I am surrounded and uplifted by a network of remarkable women. This year, I want to celebrate the diverse and extraordinary women who have significantly influenced my professional path. Whether it was being the friendly faces in my first job, offering me an international secondment, providing invaluable mentorship, or collaborating closely with me, these women had belief in my capabilities and thought me more than the technical aspects of being an advisor. I am grateful for their support and guidance and in gratitude I am committed to paying it forward by actively engaging in the empowerment of the next generation of professional women in law and tax. Through offering employment opportunities, mentorship and working closely with young individuals, we can create a workplace where success knows no gender boundaries. Together, let’s work on a future where women are not only celebrated but also empowered to thrive in every aspect of their professional journey.”

Sangeeta Rabadia, a Partner in Private Wealth, reflects on the expectation placed on women to fulfil multiple roles in a way that is not expected of men. She talks about how she shifted her mindset to practice being the only person to decide what she should do, and her ideas for steps we can all take to help female legal professionals and women in society more broadly.

“When people see me today, they see a successful and experienced lawyer designing her own future. What they don’t see is what it has taken to get here. The road has been challenging but fulfilling. I have had to navigate the cultural and societal expectations often assigned to women whilst staying true to my career aspirations. Like most women, I have experienced misogyny, sexism and many of the other ‘ism’s’. Most times it was subtle, underhanded, and I didn’t even notice it until I reflected on incidents much later. At some point I desensitised myself to it all without even realising.

As women, the world expects a lot of us. We are expected to be super partners, super mums, super employees…super everything! It’s a totally unrealistic and unreasonable expectation. I no longer pressure myself to be a super anything. I set my own goals and my own targets, and decide what part of my life needs to be prioritised and when. Joining Spencer West has been great in allowing me to be able to wear all these hats.

I still get judged, people still have expectations of me, brows are still raised when I do not conform, and I do sometimes succumb to everyone else’s will without regard for my own desires. However, I decided, and now practice, that the only person who can decide what I should do and want to do is – me! It’s not been easy to shift my own mindset but now that I have, it is exceptionally liberating.”

Finally, we gained insight from two of our inspiring women who are leading the change in the field of law. Sangeeta Rabadia and Chantelle Gough have outlined 8 key ways in which we can elicit change for women in the legal profession.

1. Autonomy – advocate for yourself, set clear boundaries, and negotiate flexible work arrangements to ensure both work and family obligations are met without sacrifice. This includes at home; share the mental load you are carrying, be it organising the kids’ timetables or meal planning.
2. Employers – employers who prioritise work-life balance foster a culture of understanding and support within the workplace that encourages open dialogue and promotes personal and professional success.
3. Challenges – despite strides made in the legal profession, challenges such as long hours, tight deadlines and high-pressure situations persist, clashing with family commitments and responsibilities. We must speak up and ask for help when we need it.
4. Expectations – recognise that we can’t be full-time housewives and full-time career women and full-time mums. You don’t expect it of men, please don’t expect it of us.
5. Technology – technology has revolutionised the way we work, offering flexibility and accessibility. Finding an employer that also embraces technology will enhance your productivity and provide greater freedom and control over your schedule.
6. Support – there are several ways women can be supported. Firstly, if we do something well, let us know! There’s no need to overshadow our accomplishments by comparing them to that of others. Secondly, if you have a seat at the table or an entry into the room, sponsor and advocate for the women who don’t have that access. And thirdly, live by example. If everyone treats women kindly and respectfully, our young ones will see that as a norm, and know that anything else is not acceptable.
Chantelle concludes: “just because you may be a high-performer, a non-complainer, or just a female, doesn’t mean you have to carry on and suffer in silence. With the right support from your employer, colleagues, and at home, it is possible to thrive both personally and professionally.”

For Sangeeta, the importance of celebrating women is not just about making them feel appreciated. She says: “women are genuinely great at business (as well as many other things!). The Rose Review estimated that women could add £250 billion to the economy if we matched males in entrepreneurship. Having women succeed in careers benefits us all.

To any woman who needs a boost, just know; you are needed, you are necessary, you are formidable.”

Chantelle Gough is taking part in an International Women’s Day podcast, as part of a panel discussing “Transforming Workplaces and Homes for Women’s Sustainable Careers”. The link to the podcast is below:


Jasmin Dhillon
Partner - Employment and Immigration
Jasmin Dhillon is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. She specialises in Employment and Immigration
Bina Gayadien
Partner - Tax
Bina Gayadien is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. She specialises in personal tax and social security specialist; cross-border employment and mobility tax advisory and compliance.
Chantelle Gough
Partner - Corporate, Technology and Healthtech
Chantelle Gough is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. She specialises in Healthtech and technology law, Mergers & acquisitions; Venture capital transactions.
Sangeeta Rabadia
Partner - Private Client
Sangeeta Rabadia is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. She specialises in Wills; trusts; probate; succession planning; private client tax; Court of Protection; disputes regarding estates and trusts
Fudia Smartt
Partner – Employment
Fudia Smartt is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. She specialises in all employment law both domestic and international, disputes and litigation.