Hi - who are you?
I’m Michelle, I’m the Assistant General Counsel and DPO at Zoopla. I started at Zoopla two and a half years ago as the Senior Legal Counsel and Company Secretary. Six months ago I was promoted to the Assistant GC and DPO role. I have an incredibly broad remit, covering everything from commercial contracts to data protection.
You also became Chair of the Women’s Impact Network - congratulations! What’s the initiative about?
The Women's Impact Network (WIN) is a champion network that centres around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). We have four of these champion networks at Zoopla; they were created as part of a new DE&I initiative which allowed Zoopla employees to vote on the matters that meant the most to them and were impacting employees day to day.
Based on that data, we created four main initiatives:
- Minds of All Kinds - which focuses on neurodiversity
- Empower Parents - which offers parental support and guidance
- Bridge - which is dedicated towards racial and ethnic matters
- WIN - which supports women in the workplace
Is this specifically a Zoopla initiative?
Yes - though WIN’s mission statement is to “improve the lives of women at Zoopla and beyond.” So there’s certainly a community element to what we do, beyond a workplace setting.
For example, we celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against women in 2021. As part of that initiative, we secured a spokesperson from Refuge to give us an overview of the fantastic work that they do. We then also made a financial contribution towards women staying at Refuge’s hostels.
The great thing about being a lawyer is that you're trained to consider both sides of an argument, to challenge assumptions, and not take anything at face value
And as the Chair, what does your role entail?
My job is to lead other members of the network. I’m incredibly fortunate to work with four other hugely talented and dedicated women, but we are a democratic group; my role often focuses on facilitating discussion and supporting wherever I'm needed.
I get involved with everything, from helping with comms, to organizing events, to promoting all of our initiatives and collaborating with the people team.
How does WIN work with the people team?
We recently collaborated to launch a new set of female-centric policies. We have a new policy on menopause and the transitional period right before it, and I was helping to coordinate all of those different elements and bringing everybody together.
It’s a challenge with smaller businesses that might think that these inclusive policies can wait - I’m fortunate to work at a business that is aware of the impact these initiatives have, and open to improving on them.
How do your skills as a lawyer come into play?
I think of myself as a chief facilitator; my job is to help make things happen. The great thing about being a lawyer is that you're trained to consider both sides of an argument, to challenge assumptions, and not take anything at face value.
My ability to think like a lawyer has been useful when we're considering the issues we face, and weighing up the pros and cons of each solution: how are the decisions we make going to be perceived by the wider business? How would we justify our decisions? What are the scenarios where we would have to back up our choices?
My skills have been helpful in scoping out the risk involved. Being the Chair also means plenty of negotiation - you're asking people to change assumptions that they may have had for a long time.
And it’s also similar within the legal industry - people are used to thinking and doing things a certain way, so getting them to change their minds can be difficult.
Legal has a responsibility to challenge those mindsets and demonstrate the value of being creative and finding more efficient workarounds.
The team can also make or break the experience - they need to be such that you can solicit help when you need it, and defer to others when their skillsets beat your own
What are the latest projects you’ve worked on with WIN?
We arranged large-scale events, such as hosting a panel of inspiring women for International Women’s Day, but I'm particularly proud of our recent launch - a fireside chat series. It’s an informal, safe environment where we focus on issues that specifically impact women.
The first session was on menopause, and women across various different businesses shared their experiences and invited others in the company to join the discussion. Sometimes people may not feel comfortable enough to share those experiences at the workplace, but the fireside chat series offers a safe environment to do so.
And it’s so important to have this space where these issues can be discussed and normalised.
How do you manage this workload alongside your responsibilities as a lawyer?
The only way that I can manage this is by having both a supportive line manager and a supportive leadership team. The role with WIN is in addition to my daily responsibilities, so I needed a manager who was in my corner - and fortunately I had that support at Zoopla.
The team you work with can also make or break the experience - they need to be such that you can solicit help when you need it, and defer to others when their skillsets beat your own.
As a Chair it’s important to avoid controlling everything, and instead allow others to shine as they take the lead.
Do you have any advice for lawyers who want to establish a similar initiative at their businesses?
Please reach out to me! I’m more than happy to have a conversation around what’s worked well for us. Other piece of advice I would give:
- Don’t underestimate the time commitment. These issues deserve careful consideration, so make sure you’re ready to give them the attention they need. There’s no point flagging an issue if you’re then not going to invest time in resolving it
- Remember - this isn’t a temporary role. This kind of involvement needs to sit alongside your full-time job, and you need to make sure your input isn’t performative
- Your skills as a lawyer will come in super handy. Your role as a lawyer involves being proactive, instead of reactive, as well as thinking through the potential repercussions of the business’ decisions and mitigating that risk.
Those same skills are incredibly useful when working on initiatives to improve working conditions for women, and underrepresented groups. Don’t shy away from them.
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