- Apprentice Lawyer
- Legal Jobs
Payal Chawla is the founder of India’s first and only all-women law firm, Juscontractus, which was recently photographed by Lynn Johnson of National Geographic as part of their coverage of the centenary of women securing the right to vote in the United States.
For this Women’s Day special, Chawla gave us a glimpse into her journey of setting up an only all women-law firm. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
What was the idea behind an all-women’s outfit?
I had this idea primarily because I am a woman and I know the challenges that women face in the workspace. When I consulted well-wishers, I was advised against it by everybody without exception. I decided I would still go ahead and have a crack at it anyway.
For the first three years, I went about quietly recruiting women, but didn’t tom-tom about the whole deal. But after awards started coming in, we were winning our case, and most importantly, we were profitable. I saw no reason not to shout it out loud from the rooftops.
I know what I am doing is important, but when organizations like National Geographic reach out to you, it only serves to reinforce that conviction.
How is what you are doing significant?
What if I were to tell you that I had the winning formula that would allow Roger Federer and Serena Williams to contest against each other on equitable terms on the tennis court? The bad news is that I don’t have it for tennis, but I do think I have it for the workplace, and particularly for law firms.
The challenge is to nurture women and provide them with a safe and equitable workplace/internal work environment. Both the internal and external workplace is male dominated, and the idea is to cut off interaction with men at least in the internal workspace.
Can you define a "safe and equitable environment"?
When you work at a law firm, you have the internal environment which is the office and the external environment is in court, where you are competing against other law firms. I can’t control the external environment and neither do I want to.
The two factors that hamstring women in comparison to men are, firstly, biological, and secondly, the inequitable work hours. Apart from office work, women have certain domestic duties that they must perform.
I personally wanted an environment where I could come into work between 10:00 am and 6:30 pm. There were two reasons for this; one was safety and the second was the fact that women have to be home at a certain time whether it is to take care of children or perform other domestic duties.
I get up and leave at 6:30 pm so that no one else feels compelled to stay here. Yes, in order to stay competitive, you may need to put in additional work, but with the internet and with cloud and other technology, women need not do it in the office.
They can put in that little bit additionally from home after the completion of other duties.
What do you think women in positions of power can do for women lower down the pecking order?
I think women with entrepreneurial spirit must open up their businesses, and give women pre-eminence in their businesses.
As far as women who are already in senior positions, they might not be able to change policy and hire only women, but they have to do more than just pay lip service to gender diversity issues. Most organizations have a token woman director on their boards.
This creates an unhealthy competition between women vying for that one post. Women have to look out for the interests of other women just like men do; the old boys club, or whatever you want to call it.
Women have to think on similar lines about the sisterhood and broad base the number of women working in an organization.