During the Month of International Women’s Day, Harneys takes a look at women’s achievements in the law and is proud to feature female litigators as part of its global commitment to #BalanceForBetter. 2019 also marks a significant milestone: it is the 100 year anniversary of women joining the legal profession as practising solicitors. The First 100 Years campaign aims to ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession by raising awareness about their history and inspiring future generations of female lawyers.
Rose Kehoe is a Director at Duff & Phelps in Hong Kong with Asia regional coverage. She is experienced in providing specialist advice on debt restructuring and insolvency related matters. Rose is known for her ability to identify key issues in complex and time sensitive situations and her persuasiveness in guiding decision making. Here Rose speaks to Harneys about her career.
What keeps you busy?
No two days are ever the same in my work as a restructuring and insolvency professional where my role sees me leading stakeholders towards the resolution of issues which often involve some form of contentious element. I work closely with legal counsel and am known for my hands on approach and active engagement in matters.
In terms of insolvency related work, my boots are often literally on the ground, for example to effect the realisation of assets or to appear in Court in relation to employment related issues, in both examples as the liquidator of a company in Hong Kong, as well as to oversee concurrent investigations into the financial affairs of that same company. In larger scale advisory mandates there is scope to explore available options and work towards innovative solutions in the case of distressed debt, involving compromise and trust on the part of stakeholders.
Our team has recently stepped onto the Duff & Phelps global advisory platform having previously operated as an ‘independent’ firm in Asia. We are excited to have vastly increased our scope for client servicing to complement our core service offering of restructuring advisory, corporate recovery and insolvency advice (including formal appointments) and forensic accounting. The process of managing the integration has been smooth, the move has been well received by the market, and we are ready for business as always, but with a far greater depth of resources.
I thrive on engagement with people, teams and community, including where this involves an avenue to work in a positive way to advance progress in respect of women’s issues. One such outlet is that I currently serve on the board of the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation (“IWIRC”) in Hong Kong (Vice Chair). Our initiatives this year include outreach to industry professionals in the wider Asia region via the IWIRC network, to host inspirational women speakers at our ‘Breakfast Bites’ series and at an international level, to promote women speakers on panels.
What achievement are you proudest of?
My work in restructuring began in 1997 in Thailand during the Asian Financial Crisis when it was a case of all hands on deck. It was before the time the when internet became a useful business tool and appropriate legislative framework was emergent at best, and so this environment made for an excellent training ground.
I have made a it a priority to take ownership of my career and maintain professional relevance, and these factors have led to my professional and academic achievements over time. In recent years, I have extended my professional range to the provision of expert opinion for litigation support, particularly in relation to questions of valuation. This area of my practice has developed as a result of having added to my academic achievements with a Master of International Finance, for which I was conferred a university medal in 2014.
As this series of vignettes is intended to celebrate International Women’s Day, and in the spirit of the First 100 Years campaign (which seeks to discover the stories of pioneering and inspiring women in the legal profession), it is fitting that I spotlight my experience of mentoring an experienced lawyer over the course of almost a year on The Women’s Foundation Hong Kong (“TWF”) Mentoring Programme for Women Leaders in 2015/16. This provided me with insight into the challenges young women lawyers face today and the level of compromise required by many women in their personal and/or professional lives in nurturing a long-term career. Following my year as a participant in the TWF mentoring programme, I was invited to join the Steering Committee and subsequently played a part in shaping the programme for future cohorts.
Along with others from the TWF mentoring programme, we founded a successful Sheryl Sandberg style ‘Lean In Circle’ of 14 professional women in Hong Kong. Almost three years later, we now refer to this group as our own ‘personal board of advisors’. The key to the success has been equally the common experience of our involvement with TWF and also that we have diversity in terms of age and professional and cultural backgrounds. We support each other in our professional goals through group mentoring/reverse mentoring and externally, we find opportunities to promote each other’s brand identity in a positive way.
What challenges do women face in your profession?
TWF recently published a compilation of statistics aimed at highlighting how Hong Kong is progressing with respect to workplace gender equality and pay parity as compared to other countries in the Asia Pacific region. The survey indicates that by comparison, women in Hong Kong are significantly under-represented in government, in the boardroom and in management. Overall, significant barriers exist in Hong Kong to professional women staying on course in their careers particularly that the gender pay gap persists, maternity leave is often inadequate and that working mothers face biases at work and pressure to be the primary caregiver at home.
Simple strategies such as the implementation of flexible work arrangements, for both women and men, and mentoring and sponsorship programs may all contribute towards encouraging women professionals to maintain career momentum. Willingness to accommodate flexible work arrangements when most needed has been shown to lead to increased loyalty, which has expression through greater length of tenure. However, policies and programs such as these can only be successful when staff are engaged and supportive of the corporate values that underpin these affirmative actions.
It can be an insurmountable challenge to return to a professional career following a career break and of the 30% of women who have ‘dropped out’ of the workforce in Hong Kong due to caring responsibilities, one might expect that many women will never return, and of those who do return to work the challenge is in regaining their former career trajectory. After taking a career break for caregiving and study it took me some time to successfully resume my career. Ultimately my persistence paid off, but in the interim period I worked independently as a consultant in business turnaround which on reflection has added an interesting dimension to my experience.
Has anything changed for women in your career?
We have entered an extraordinary era where groups that have not had a voice in the past are now finding their voices through social media culture, the arts and film and financially well supported non-government organisations, as well as schools and universities. People are better informed and more easily able to organise into groups aligned with common interests, and whether via physical or virtual protest, they are finding their voices and speaking up. We in a new era of protest, and it’s one for the history books.
Those who have previously had the loudest voice are now subject to influence and change, and this extends to organisational culture, for example the International Women’s Day campaign theme #BalanceforBetter which calls for a ‘gender-balanced world’ (gender-balance in government, media coverage (including in sport), the boardroom and in wealth) and the #HeForShe movement which enlists male allies to stand together with women to take action towards achieving gender equalities.
What has not changed is that it can make a difference in your career to be championed. While a mentor will allow for transparency and vulnerability, a champion will act as your advocate both within the firm and in business development, and therefore help to propel your professional growth and success. It’s my personal observation that women more strongly advocate for other women now, far more so than in the past.
What advice would you give to women becoming solicitors or partners now?
Develop a vision of what success means to you both professionally and personally and centre your strategic career decisions around this. This will change over time as new opportunities arise and your priorities shift, and so revisit this from time to time. There is much clarity to be gained through support seeking, for example via mentoring and sponsorship and women’s interest groups.
Be practical and to the point and learn to express your service offering clearly so that time spent on business development is time well spent.
Advocate for the change you see as necessary to ensure a ‘strong and equal future for all women’ in the legal and other related professions.
On behalf of all of the women at Harneys, the team is delighted to unite and reflect on this occasion and showcase female litigators from around the world.