As the original initiator of the Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series, we decided to turn the tables on Clare Beresford and put our CEO in the spotlight, in the first of a series of discussions with Clare about diversity and inclusion.
As a female owner of a legal executive search firm, with an all-female senior leadership team, diversity and inclusion is at the very heart of Laurence Simons Search. Clare is an active member of the 30% Club, and we consistently ask our clients about their D&I policies as part of our due diligence.
Laurence Simons Search also recently signed up to the Women in Law Pledge. This pledge is a commitment to work together to harness the power of gender equality to transform the business of law. We are proud to support this initiative.
In this exclusive interview, Clare explains more about her drive and determination to contribute to diversity rebalancing in senior leadership.
Laurence Simons Search (LSS): Good morning Clare. Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Clare Beresford (CB): I’d describe myself as a curious, optimistic ex-lawyer who is committed to doing her small part to ensure that we correct the gender (and diversity) balance in senior legal leadership positions. I am someone who wants to employ the best and brightest talent for her company and that of her clients’. Someone who does not have all the answers but knows that her team, colleagues and customers can help uncover them. I also believe that the how is as important as the why.
I am also known for my love of Yorkshire tea – please don’t offer me anything else. And it is probably best not to mention my slightly unhealthy addiction to beautiful shoes….
LSS: Please tell us a bit of history about how you became CEO of a leading, global search firm?
CB: Most recruiters like CVs that show a linear career path because it is easier to show progression and advancement in a lock-step fashion. Mine isn’t like that, unfortunately! I realised very early on that I was never going to be a career lawyer and equally realised that my desire to learn new things would mean that if I wanted to have a cross-sector career I would need to develop a set of fully transferable skills. These skills have been core to my career.
One consistent theme is to ask questions; learn quickly (and fail fast) and realising that surrounding yourself with brilliant experts is a smart thing to do. What I learnt in Brussels at the Brewers of Europe allowed me to move to my first “commercial” role at TrenStar (then a Carlye PE backed company) learning about supply chains and RFID technology. From there I moved to CPA Global, learning about IP. Then another leap from a global player to a start-up specialising in IP prior art searching.
Another consistent theme is that each role offered me the opportunity to look at different (and clever) business models. I was headhunted for the Laurence Simons role; I was a typical passive candidate who got more intrigued and engaged throughout the process until I was determined to be offered the job. There was - understandably - quite a lot of intrigue about my appointment to Global Managing Director without a background in recruitment. I admired those of my competitors who picked up the ‘phone and asked me about the process. I learnt long ago that what people think of me isn’t my business, the only thing I have control over is me and my responses to situations. I remind myself of that daily!
The past five years have been enlightening. I have learnt a huge amount about the skill it takes to ensure that people are truly matched to roles that will allow proper career curation and also that companies will get the best talent available for their culture. Building on an existing well-known brand, maintaining the good parts of the heritage culture and introducing some other elements to ensure that cohesion and collective collaboration occur along with empowerment and accountability have meant that we continue to evolve as a search and selection business. Delivering valuable services to our customers – clients and candidates – and ensuring that their experience with Laurence Simons Search is always positive, even if the outcome is not as hoped. After all, only one person gets the job!
LSS: Do you think gender equality affects both men and women?
CB: Yes. Not only in board rooms but across most households in the world. And perhaps we women have done a disservice to men by not including them enough in the on-going work to put equality at the forefront of all decision making. All were born to a woman. Many are husbands to women and some fathers to girls and as such they have a voice in this discussion. Perhaps we women also need to look at our double-standards. We want to have equality and then send mixed messages as to what that means. We need to be clearer in our approach.
LSS: Your approach to gender equality seems unique across the legal search sector, why is this?
CB: I am not sure that it is unique. I think it is more that as a woman I have experienced most of the challenges that took place in some workplaces during the 90s and 00s when I was not senior enough to have hiring and firing decisions or have responsibility for a P&L account. Being paid less than my male colleagues. Being overlooked for a promotion because I didn’t understand that getting on with it and performing brilliantly isn’t enough. Being in uncomfortable social situations and laughing when (older and more senior men) crossed a line.
Today I have a platform as CEO of Laurence Simons Search and as such I can use it highlight, inform, educate, engage, signpost and challenge on gender equality and all inclusion matters. The compound effect of each one of us doing something means that incremental steps and change to a more equal world – in all senses – will happen. I just want it to happen more quickly, that’s all.
I also know that personally I am learning more and more about gender equality each day, there is always new research, new data, new views, new perspectives. I don’t have all of the answers to gender equality, but I’m open to learning as much as I can and to be able to share that information to the best of my ability.
LSS: Are you proud of having an all-female leadership team at Laurence Simons Search?
CB: Yes. Extremely. I believe we are unique. Having an all-female leadership team was not planned, it just happened that the best people for the roles in this instance were women.
LSS: What does ‘being a leader’ mean to you?
CB: Being kind, which is harder than it appears. It is easy to be kind to people we like or love or respect. It is very different when those components are not there. Being fair. Being present. Remembering “stuff”. Asking questions. Listening to the answer. Asking the same question in a different way. Listening to the answer. Understanding what isn’t said is sometimes the most important.
To take all of the blame externally, even when it wasn’t my fault or issue. Then have it be a learning exercise internally to develop our skills further. To give the credit to others (even when sometimes my ego would quite like to have it!) and knowing that I don’t know it all, so asking for help and support when required.
Leading by example which can be hard sometimes. Having difficult conversations with compassion. Showing my vulnerability. Giving empowerment and the accountability that comes with that. Understanding that different is just different, not wrong. Remaining curious and learning new things. When someone does something brilliant that should be the start of the conversation not the end of it; “how did you do that? Break that down for me. Tell me how you think that could work in other ways.”
And finally remembering that humour is a very valuable tool. Laughter can change an atmosphere in a room in a heartbeat.
LSS: Thankyou Clare, for your honesty and insight.