In many ways, I don’t remember a time when I haven’t “leaned in.” I was raised by a single, working mother, and did a lot of my growing up in council (public) housing. My mum did a great job with us, but I always knew that her life wasn’t panning out the way that she had hoped or planned for, and that a large part of this was because she had been left as a single mother with two young kids, with no cash and no home. From a very young age, I was determined that this would not happen to me – that I would not be economically dependent on someone else, and would make my own way in the world.
I am now a partner in one of the world’s leading international law firms. I do sometimes look back and wonder just how I managed to get myself here from there, and becoming part of the Lean In movement has helped crystallize my thinking on this. I have always worked hard, and grabbed every opportunity that has come my way – including moving abroad to cities where I knew absolutely no one when I first arrived, leaning in to those experiences to learn and grow from them. It never occurred to me that I could not both work and have a family – no doubt inspired by my mother’s example throughout my childhood, and beyond – and it also never occurred to me that I might have it tougher because I’m a woman. I lean in just about every day of my working life – I might be the only woman in a critical meeting of 30 people on a deal; I’m the only woman partner in my office; and women in the top jobs remain a rarity in the sectors in which I work.
My message to younger women out there is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you have ability, you have the opportunity to do whatever it is that you want to do, and be, or become, whoever it is that you want to be. Grab the opportunities and lean in to them, even if they seem terrifying at first; you never know where they’ll lead you. My move to Washington DC for 2 years, where I knew no one, led me to my wonderful husband, my amazing son, ultimately my partnership at Milbank, and my happy and successful life now. Not bad for an Essex council house girl.