Alex Hatchman: Championing Women in Business
Alex Hatchman has recently been appointed as CEO of Fletchers Solicitors, after a successful and award-winning career within senior management roles. Alex strongly believes in championing women in business and has shared honest advice and insight into her experiences in order to inspire women to pursue management roles.
Being a woman in leadership within a male-dominated industry
What has been the biggest challenge for you throughout your career?
I would say that the transition from being a driven, single-minded professional to being a no-less-driven professional, wife and mother has been the greatest challenge. This was especially the case after having children, as they rightly pull on much of your spare time.
If you have previously been dedicated to your career, there is naturally an element of rebalancing that needs to take place. Succeeding with this juggling act requires support from your partner and family, and it requires you to actively manage your time.
For example, since becoming a mother I am less tolerant of sitting in meetings where the purpose isn’t clear or there aren’t defined outputs. That time is time I will never get back!
Are there any specific obstacles or challenges that you have faced in a leadership role due to your gender? This could be in the recruitment process or within the workplace.
I, like many if not most professional women, have faced issues that relate to my gender. Some of those issues have been explicit and conscious, and some of those issues have been tacit and unconscious.
Having children was enlightening as I experienced things that I didn’t expect. For example, before returning to work after my first child a senior advisor to the board called me to check if I was “still the same Alex, as women can sometimes go a bit funny after having children”. A few days earlier, my line manager openly asked me if I planned to have any more children. It wasn’t too surprising then that when our second child was born, we called her Emmeline (after British political activist and leader of the suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst).
While it was difficult realising that the world of work was unfair, I’m glad it happened as it opened my eyes to the world as it is, and not as I imagined it to be. In learning this lesson I can play a small part in helping resolve it, both for my daughter and for other women who come after.
What are some factors that may put women off pursuing leadership roles, and how can we combat this?
There are a number of reasons for this. One of these is that the journey can be tough. I saw a video recently which was published by the office of the Mayor of London. It takes place in an underground station and shows men taking the escalator up while women take the stairs up. Another image shows a woman with a child, and not only is she taking the stairs, but she is also carrying the buggy up the stairs! I thought this was a great representation of how tough it can be.
Another reason is that women can deselect out [of pursuing leadership roles] because they have an inaccurate perception of what it takes to succeed. Our frames of reference on what it takes to succeed are often based upon what has gone before us, which is why it is so important that we create more female role models that other women can identify with. Those women that have succeeded have a special responsibility to then share their path, and not to pull the ladder up behind them.
The last one to call out is that women are yet to achieve equality at home. Research shows that women do significantly more unpaid care work than men, looking after young children and elderly parents. We need to share this burden more evenly, otherwise, women will face two points of disadvantage and not just one.
“Women that have succeeded have a special responsibility to share their path, and not to pull the ladder up behind them.”
Why is it important that women have leadership positions in the legal industry?
I think it is important that women have leadership positions in every industry and every walk of life. It is also important that the team who sits on the board of any organisation is similar in profile to their employees and to their customers. There is plenty of research in this area (McKinsey has published a number of seminal papers) that shows that diverse businesses outperform those that are homogeneous.
Have you seen a change in attitudes towards women in leadership over the years?
I have seen some change in attitudes, in particular at non-executive level, which gives us room for optimism. In addition, I am encouraged by the women and men who are leaning into this issue to resolve it. However, the rate of change is objectively slow and needs accelerating. I hope that the world in which my son and my daughter grow up in becomes one where applying the same level of time, effort, and hard work will enable them to each achieve the same rewards.
Becoming a successful and effective leader
What do you consider to be the most important traits of a successful leader?
Wisdom, kindness and strength. It’s as straightforward as that, and it’s in that order too! If we ask ourselves, “Do I want to be led by a person who does not exercise balance and judgement?” the answer for most would be no. Equally, if we ask ourselves, “Do I want to be led by a person who does not care for my welfare and have human kindness?” the answer for most would be no. Lastly, if we ask ourselves, “Do I want to be led by a person who does not have the courage to stand up and do the right thing” the answer for most would, again, be no. When I look around the world at some of the political leaders who have lost their following, it is invariably because they are not wise, kind and strong.
What have you learnt from your current role about how to get the best results from your team?
Having previously spent my career in large, blue-chip organisations such as Accenture, Tesco and M&S, this role was my first within the legal sector, and also my first with an SME. I have of course learnt a lot about the law, but what I have really learnt is how to apply pre-existing skills within this new context in order to turbo-charge a business of this size. The talent pool in smaller businesses is naturally more limited, and so I spend a lot of my time educating, coaching and mentoring my team.
How do you feel about being appointed as CEO of Fletchers Solicitors?
It’s a privilege and an honour to lead our fantastic business. I first joined Fletchers as a Non-Executive Director in 2016, and at that time didn’t anticipate the amazing journey that we would go on together. We are now entering the next stage of our journey as a business, and if we continue focussing on serving Customers and employing top talent, then the future is very bright.
About Fletchers Solicitors
Established in 1987, Fletchers Solicitors is the largest medical negligence and personal injury practice in the UK, specialising in serious injury, medical negligence law and motorbike accidents. The firm currently employs over 450 people.
Alex Hatchman has recently moved into the role of CEO at Fletchers Solicitors and oversees all Fletchers Solicitors’ brands.