When Elaine qualified in 1982, employment law was not a recognised speciality. Within two years of qualifying, she decided to make it her sole focus. “I felt I was more likely to be successful as a working mother if I focused on a defined area of speciality rather than seeking, as was common in those days, to be more of a generalist,” she says.
In 1992, she was involved in setting up the Employment Lawyers’ Association, which today represents the views and interests of just over 6,000 employment lawyers in the UK.
Elaine became a partner in 1989 on a four-day week at the firm that was to become Eversheds, setting up an employment law practice from scratch. “To be a partner on anything other than a full-time basis was almost unheard of at that time.”
Not only did she become an equity partner within two years, but by 2003, still working on a four-day week, she had built a thriving and internationally recognised team of 34 lawyers and consultants. She set up the first flexible working policy in Eversheds in 2001 “when other firms were not even thinking about flexible working”. The policy was available to men and women and was designed to help high-achieving lawyers have greater flexibility.
Elaine has been a leader and role model for women from her early days. Born in Manchester in 1958, she went to Manchester High School for Girls where she developed both debating and leadership skills – she was a finalist in a national debating competition and undertook a significant leadership role in a national youth organisation.
Inspired by her late father, she studied law at King’s College, University of London. She has worked as a solicitor in top City firms Norton Rose, Eversheds and Withers for 34 years. When she joined Norton Rose there were no female partners and very few female role models.
After 25 years of acting predominantly for employers in relation to employment law matters, in 2006 she decided to focus solely on acting for senior executives, hence her move to Withers. She has gained widespread recognition for her work with high fliers and has acted for the chief executives of eight banks. Unsurprisingly given her background, about a third of her clients are senior women.
With her particular interest in the progression of women into the top jobs, Elaine has been a member of the Center for Talent Innovation Taskforce since 2004. This global taskforce, based in New York, has over 85 global companies as members. “Together they have had a huge impact on the diversity agenda worldwide with over 200 global initiatives to their credit,” Elaine explains.
She is also Secretary and a member of the Board of the International Women’s Forum UK.Interview by Alison Maitland