Member Spotlight: Jane Edwarde, Partner
Head of Real Estate, Slaughter and May

March 1, 2022
Written by: by Alissa Poloumieva
AP: Can you provide us with a brief overview of your career to date, and how you got to your current position?
JE: I attended university in Scotland, where I studied law, and qualified in commercial real estate. After about a year and a half with a Scottish firm, I decided to make the move to London, where I joined Slaughter and May and worked my way up to become partner in just 5 years at age 31. I’ve been a partner with the firm for over 15 years now, where I’ve seen a lot of great change and new initiatives taken. For example, I am now a Diversity and Inclusion Partner and am also involved in our legal tech programme called Collaborate.

AP: Wow, making partner at a top law firm within 5 years is no small feat. Can you expand on how you achieved this? Was there also an element of right place right time and taking all the opportunities that came your way?
JE: When I first made the decision to move to London, I initially thought I would probably only stay for 2-3 years before returning home to Scotland with a marketable CV. However, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed living here. The quality and pace of the work meant that I had exposure to incredibly exciting deals, where I learned a lot very quickly. That exposure continued to open up new doors and opportunities, which led to being promoted to Partner. Enjoying what I did was a big part of the journey. When you enjoy what you do, you are more willing to stretch yourself and work harder to achieve your goals. I made the decision to continue down the path of partnership quite early on, as I knew that I wanted to achieve this and also to start a family in my 30s.

AP: I love that you made personal goals a priority and worked to achieve two life milestones simultaneously. We can too often focus on one and neglect the other, but it’s important to remember that planning is how we stay accountable to ourselves, and you did just that! I wanted to touch on the Collaborate programme you mentioned. Is technology taking front and centre in terms of focus areas within your firm? Can you explain to our readers what the legal tech programme is?
JE: Technology is a rapidly developing area of opportunity within the legal sector. The Collaborate programme at Slaughter and May is helping to develop, test, and expand legal tech products and services to ensure the sector remains at the forefront of innovation. Tech companies work with our team to seek advice, mentorship and networking opportunities. Importantly they also now have the ability to take part in a live pilot programme within the firm and to pitch their businesses to investors. It’s really rewarding to work closely with these growing companies, which can be quite different to the many more established clients that we work with on a day-to-day basis. Diversity in tech is also a growing and important area of interest for me. I am keen to explore how I can bring together my two roles for greater impact in the industry and wider.

AP: I imagine Collaborate is an invaluable opportunity for new tech companies in the sector as it provides access to real-world problems and opportunities for solutions. That’s quite an exciting venture, and I hope to hear more similar stories in the future. What drove you to join CREW, and what can you tell us about your experience so far?
JE: I’ve only recently joined CREW UK, having met Michelle Cooper at a Bisnow conference. After 18 long months of limited in-person social activity thanks to the pandemic, I was keen to explore new networks in property and to meet more women in the industry. Property has always been a sociable industry, so it’s great to be part of an organisation that puts the emphasis on growing and maintaining your network. Now that I am a diversity partner at the firm, I felt that joining CREW would be the perfect opportunity to combine learning, industry networking, supporting other women and socialising within one organisation. It’s rare to find something that authentically offers all of that, and as busy as I am at work, this was a key reason for joining.
 
AP: What have you learned or how have you been directly impacted from mentoring others / being a mentee?
JE: I have signed up to be a mentor with CREW UK’s Mentorship 4.0 Programme, and I have my first mentee meeting next week. I’m looking forward to meeting some really promising and interesting women coming up in the industry, and if I can help them in any way as an external source of support, then I’m happy to do that. It’s important to sometimes get that perspective outside of your organisation, but still within the industry. I’m looking forward to learning more about the structure of their organisations, what their concerns and challenges are, and hopefully help them to meet their aspirations.

AP: This is your first year as a mentor with CREW UK’s Mentorship Programme, what do you think are some best practice points for productive and meaningful mentor-mentee discussions?
JE: Trust and basic chemistry. The first conversation may not be the one you chose to continue with, so it’s important to speak to a few people and find someone that you can build that positive, trusting relationship with. Both mentees and mentors should have takeaways. For example, from a mentee perspective, these sessions should provide opportunities to share, be vulnerable, and learn to articulate hopes, fears and ambitions. For mentors, this is a great opportunity to build listening skills and to learn about the aspirations and challenges facing today’s younger talent within our sector.

AP: The ability to articulate and verbally work through challenges is definitely something I’ve improved upon since joining the mentorship programme. Specifically, this has improved my confidence in having the more difficult conversations at work and being able to communicate more clearly. You mentioned that you are a Diversity partner at Slaughter and May. What do you think the key to greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) is in today’s professional environment?
JE: In our case, investing in continuous, high quality, memorable and impactful training has been a key part of promoting D&I within Slaughter and May. In my view, promoting D&I needs to be a whole firm approach and mindset and not just the responsibility of an individual or of a small team dedicated to this sole purpose. It is something that an organisation should live, breathe, and nurture to ensure lasting and meaningful change. There are a lot of training programmes out there, so it’s crucial to research and to find the right solution for the needs of your firm. Most importantly, having everyone around the table, and not just from a gender perspective, is crucial to having thought-provoking discussions and initiating lasting change. Better decisions are proven to be made by diverse groups bringing different perspectives. Particularly, it’s important to have those around the table that may not be under-represented from a D&I perspective. Even if sometimes the language may not be 100% “correct”, even if they trip up, even if they feel awkward doing so, everyone can learn and it is important to have the conversations in the first place. It’s the willingness to go there that matters and the desire to make real changes.

AP: I whole-heartedly agree. Everyone must be represented at the table to have buy-in and to achieve positive outcomes. We won’t be able to see the big picture or the problem in its entirety, if we don’t have those conversations in the first place. Are you noticing that at a certain level of their career, women tend to leave the workforce, at times permanently? How do you think we can improve this?
JE: Yes, that is the challenge for many organisations – talented women being around long enough to be selected for senior positions. We need to support women from a much more junior stage of their careers and encourage them to stay and aim for the top. It is important that senior women are visible, as they can be the role models for the younger talent to look up to. If we don’t see ourselves represented in the top positions, how can we motivate ourselves and others to persevere and succeed? It can be very disheartening. It’s not easy to juggle childcare, family life, and a demanding work schedule, and we need to be honest about that; but at the same time, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. It absolutely is possible if you are organised and determined. Having role models who are willing to share their experience allows others to see that these professional milestones are possible for everyone.

AP: Who has been your most influential professional mentor? And why?
JE: When I was a junior lawyer, I was fortunate enough to have a partner in the group who became my sponsor. He was very supportive and inspiring and gave me exposure to a lot of high quality and varied work, providing an incredible learning opportunity. Having someone that championed me so early on in my career helped to create a solid foundation of knowledge and confidence that allowed me to succeed. More recently, however, I’ve started working with a professional coach, which is something that is offered to all partners at the firm after a certain level.

AP: This is something I’ve been hearing more about from my conversations with senior leaders, not only within the real estate sector, but also in other industries. Do you have any advice on how to find these professionals and when do you think is the right time to explore this option?
JE: In my case, professional coaching is offered to all partners at my firm, so it’s not something I had looked at until it was presented to me. That said, it’s been really valuable. I met with three coaches and selected the one with whom I had the best chemistry. My coach came from an industry background, having held a similar position in another large firm, which meant she had a clear understanding of my work context, and we were able to connect instantly. In terms of timing, every industry is different, so I don’t think it’s as much about age as it is about where you are in your career journey and what questions you need help answering. Working with a coach is helpful in creating a structured plan around near and long-term goals and helps keep you accountable to that plan.

AP: Any takeaways from your work with the professional coach that you could share?
JE: One of the things that I’ve learned is to spot the warning signs of when my “bucket” is too full. Many of us operate with a bucket so full of professional and personal commitments that we become at risk of one small thing tipping that bucket over the edge. It’s easy to get stuck operating at a million miles an hour and living on a diet of adrenaline and pressure, but this is a risky long-term strategy, and we need to be mindful of that. We need to recognise when to say no, sometimes even to things we really want to do, because even that can become an unnecessary stress in the wrong context. That’s not to say that you should just sit back, because no senior role is going to accommodate that. Nevertheless, we can and should be kinder to ourselves and be trained to spot our personal warning signs before the bucket overflows.
 
AP: I couldn’t agree more. Too often we keep adding to our plates not seeing the bigger impacts this may have on our health and wellbeing, so learning to say no and spotting those warning signs is crucial. Speaking of wellbeing, this leads me to my next and final question. Outside of work, do you have a hobby or passion project you are working in?
JE: Exercise, podcasts, and baking. They are compatible! Everyone needs to have a go-to outside of work, something that is completely different from your day-to-day. For me it’s not one thing, it’s a variety of things, one of which is running. I completed the London Marathon in October last year. I love running, which I do while listening to podcasts, usually listening to interviews where I learn something new every time.

AP: Any podcast recommendations?
JE: RunPod with Jenni Falconer. These are interviews with runners mostly, which are fun and really motivational!

AP: Jane, so lovely to learn more about you through this interview! I’m excited to share your perspective with our readers, as there are some great takeaways that everyone can benefit from. Thank you for your time!