Women in Mediation – an interview with Jane Gunn

This is my first Women in Mediation interview. In conversation with the delightful, Jane Gunn, the Barefoot Mediator.

Women in Mediation is a series inspired by International Women’s Day where I interview successful women mediators on their journey in mediation. When I first thought of becoming a mediator, I was initially told that I could not be a successful commercial mediator unless I was male and middle-aged. At the time, this was pragmatic, well intentioned advice. In recording a video for International Women’s Day for We Are The City as one of their #ChooseToChallenge100 women, I chose not to focus on that story but instead use my mediation skills to help people learn HOW TO CHALLENGE – to empower them to challenge more (you can watch that video here ). It made me curious about other women’s stories in mediation and inspired me to begin a series on women in mediation. As part of that series I have interviewed a number of successful women mediators on the challenges of being a female commercial mediators and how to overcome them. Other women I have interviewed include: Jane Andrewartha, Rosemary Jackson QC, Samantha Lowe, Gillian Caroe and Laurence Krief.

The interviews are based around the following 5 questions – but they do tend to wander in other interesting directions too:

  1. Tell us about you and your practice?
  2. Tell us a bit about your journey in mediation as a woman?
  3. What advice do you have for other women in mediation?
  4. What are the struggles that women, in particular, face in commercial mediation?
  5. How have things changed and what still needs to change to make mediation more accessible to women?

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In case you prefer to read instead of watching, the transcript of the interview is set out here:

  • Mia: Hello and welcome. I’m here today with Jane Gunn. I’m Mia Forbes Pirie and we’re talking about women in mediation. This is an idea that came when I was recording a video for We Are The City. And I decided not to tell my story about women in mediation as my challenging story for We Are The City, which was to do with the fact that when I first thought about becoming a mediator, I was told that I shouldn’t be a commercial mediator if I wasn’t male and middle-aged. And this came from a woman and from a very well-intentioned place of giving me advice and not wanting me to waste my life going down a route that wasn’t worthwhile. And so it made me think about what other women’s stories might be in this area. And so I’ve reached out to a few female mediators to find out what their story is, what advice they might have for people, and what they think needs to change. So we’re very fortunate to have Jane Gunn with us today. She’s a mediator. She is a mother. And so she cares about the future of women in the world. She’s an author, a speaker, and a trainer. She is, this year, she was listed in Legal 500’s Hall of Fame. She’s also in Chambers and Partners and Who’s Who and next year she will be President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. So Jane, just to kick us off, tell us a little bit about you and your practice.
  • Jane Gunn: So thank you, Mia. So my mediation practice goes back or my introduction to mediation goes back 25 years this year. So I started in mediation 25 years ago. And for a couple of reasons, actually, a library book fell on my head. I’ve got the book here. I was in the library looking for a recipe book but this book fell on my head and it’s called “Love, Medicine and Miracles” by Dr. Bernie Siegel. And the book fell on my head. I wasn’t looking for it. It was a hardback copy and I thought I better take it out. And in the book, Dr. Bernie Siegel is, he’s a cancer doctor and he’s talking about how, as a doctor, he had to move away from seeing facts and figures about his patients to understanding what was going on in their life, their needs, interests, fears, and concerns. And I thought that’s very interesting. Couldn’t we do the same in law? And then at the same time, I was taking part in something called The Tomorrow’s Company Inquiry with the RSA. And they also were coming up with a finding that in the workplace, one of the things that’s holding organizations back from being as effective as they could be was the adversarial approach. So those two things made me think, oh, as a lawyer, I wonder whether there’s something that I could do that could change that, the way we practice in that outlook. And at the same time, mediation was a very new discipline. It was just being brought over. It was seen as very alternative and very wacky, but I did a training course, with CEDR, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. And then I went and volunteered at CEDR. I worked one day a week and began to sort of get involved in how we could roll out mediation. So that was sort of my background. But, you know, coming back to your opening message, I was certainly given the message in those early days, “Don’t give up the day job.” That was my message as well. And I forget how many people told me that, “Don’t give up the day job. This isn’t really something to build a career around.” Well, I have to say I do like a challenge. Somebody tells me I can’t do something, I’m determined to prove them wrong. But yes, that was the message I was given. So those are the reasons I went into mediation and that was the message I was given all those years ago to start with.
  • Mia: So, like me, not the most positive of starts. And I always think, actually male or female, but particularly female, if you want to be a mediator, it’s a bit like being an actor. You have to really know that it’s what you really, really, really want. It has to be sort of a deep passion.
  • Jane Gunn: Yes.
  • Mia: Yeah.
  • Jane Gunn: And to me it did feel like that. I mean, you know, there were those two instances and I somehow don’t think that library book falling on my head was a coincidence, but it did seem to me like a calling. It did seem that, you know, here’s something I really do want to do and to pursue and understand really and understand how it can develop, not just how can I do it, but how can we actually use this thing in society?
  • Mia: And so in terms of your practice now, we’ve talked about a little bit, you and I before this interview, about slow mediation and barefoot mediation and different directions. So tell us a bit about what you do and what your practice involves.
  • Jane Gunn: So I think I’ve always believed that if you’re a good mediator, you can mediate most things. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appropriate always, ’cause very often clients and lawyers are looking for somebody who really is specialized, but I don’t, myself, particularly specialize in only one area. I will mediate different types of issues, but I am particularly concerned in boardroom, workplace, partnership, things which do involve people actually, ongoing relationships as well. But I have mediated construction cases, and in particular, also medical negligence cases, which are very tough, but very interesting. So quite a broad sort of church of mediation experience. And one of the things I’ve loved doing is, also, is co-mediating, actually collaborating in the mediation process. And then also training for 10 years. I ran a partnership with David Richbell, many people will know, and we ran a business called MATA and when did the commercial mediation training program, the five day program. So that was interesting too. So, and that’s the, yeah, that’s where I’ve got to. And then, I think thinking about the sort of mediation process, and one of the things I found as a trainer we talked about, Mia, was that very often professionals and very often they are lawyers, but who come to mediation to train as a mediator, they are professional problem solvers. And whilst we explore the mediation process with them, their drive is still to solve the problem for the client and still to sort of dive in and say, well this is what I would do, or here’s my opinion and be more evaluative as we would call it and I’ve myself, because I don’t, I’m not particularly a practicing lawyer anymore and I’m much more interested in the mediation skills side. I shy away from that. I don’t want to be evaluative. I want to be very much facilitative. And then we’ve talked about sort of slow mediation and being transformative. So I can talk a little bit more about that as well.
  • Mia: Yeah, yeah. So how did you take this journey, from this sort of initial, very negative message, and when you were volunteering a day a week at CEDR, to being where you are mediating a lot of interesting matters successfully across a number of different areas? How did you take that journey as a woman? What did you encounter?
  • Jane Gunn: Well, I think it’s been a long, it obviously has been a long journey because it’s been 25 years. So it’s not something that happens overnight. I think one of the things I found really important was, you know, to just, to get out there, to be able to talk about what I found interesting about mediation, what it was, and also to find mentors, you know, who could be my mentor. So my partner, David Richbell, was a very valuable mentor to me, but who else can help me, you know, as a woman, not necessarily other women, certainly other men, you know, helping me to sort of build my confidence, to build my profile, all of those things that you need to do when you’re a woman in business, but also when you’re self-employed, as you are as a mediator. You’ve got to build your own business and your own brand and your own profile. And those things are quite challenging, too, if you don’t have the confidence in yourself.
  • Mia: And did you find that you were mentored or you found mentors that were male or female or a mixture of both?
  • Jane Gunn: A mixture of both, definitely Mia, and I think that’s a good thing. And I think there are, you know, there are many men who are very supportive of women, professional women now, and particularly women mediators. So I think it’s important to include them in our, you know, our mentoring and our masterminding, but definitely both.
  • Mia: So possibly not politically correctly, and I often get challenged when I use the words more feminine and more masculine and there’s a whole debate about that. But I would say, potentially controversially, that you have a very strong and more feminine style of mediation, with the slow mediation and the transformative mediation. And you talked about, talking about, things that you were interested in and exploring those. So how did that work in a sort of, a very, a more masculine environment and how did you decide this is what I’m interested in, this is what I think works, this is the way I want to do it? How did you have the courage to take that forward and come out there with that?
  • Jane Gunn: I don’t know. I think I’ve just persevered because, you know, when I’ve come across things like transformative mediation and thinking about slow mediation, I believed so much that that’s the right thing to do, that I’ve just persevered with that. And the way I’ve gone about that is very much to do what we’re doing now to sort of do podcasts and write articles and I’ve written a couple of books. So actually just to get my message out there and see if I could enable people to understand why I think it works and experience why I think it works, which they do.
  • Mia: Yes. I’m, as you know, I’m a big fan of transformative mediation and we talked about both of us feeling it’s a wonderful part of a toolbox. And I think that’s so important to look at why things work. Because I think a lot of people who, who are not mediators, and actually many people who are mediators, don’t understand A, that it works, and B, why it works. Yeah
  • Jane Gunn: Absolutely. And I think, yeah, if you only teach one size fits all, you’re not fully exploring the sort of whole process. And, you know, there is quite a breadth to what mediation is and can be for people. And that’s really fascinated me, and I’ve always been really interested in thinking, well if mediation is usually adopted here, what would happen if you adopted it earlier? Or what would happen if you’ve adopted it even earlier? You know, so how can we use the skills of mediation, the process of mediation in our lives and in our workplaces at different stages, and that’s, you know, that’s one of the things I’m really exploring now.
  • Mia: Yeah, so using those skills in day-to-day life which is so useful for everyone, and that also helps everyone to understand what is going on in the process of mediation.
  • Jane Gunn: Absolutely.
  • Mia: Wonderful. And so what advice do you have for other women in mediation?
  • Jane Gunn: I think if it’s for you, believe in it. I mean, you know, I think the advice, “Don’t give up the day job,” wasn’t bad advice. It’s still quite true. You know, it is hard to build your own profile and your own career in mediation and you’ve got to understand how to do that. And in many ways, I do have a sort of, you know, I have a multifactoral thing. I don’t just do mediation. I do training and I do speaking. And so, you know, I think you have got to build your own portfolio career probably, but that doesn’t mean mediation can’t be a part of it. So I think you’ve got to understand what you bring to mediation, who you might serve with it, what your skills are, and all of those things to then think, well, where might my client base be and what are their needs? But that’s the thing I think I’ve found, really.
  • Mia: So be willing to have a sort of, within the mediation space, a sort of portfolio career for a little while, at least. And then look at who are you best placed to serve, I guess.
  • Jane Gunn: Absolutely, ’cause, you know, however well connected you are and however well you do in the mediation training, it’s going to take a while to build your experience, to build your client base, to build your profile, and you’ve just got to allow time for that.
  • Mia: So if, as, if women are watching this thinking of starting out on their career, they know that they have to really feel it and really want it. What are the struggles that they’re likely to encounter, in particular, in commercial mediation?
  • Jane Gunn: I think, perhaps, this perception that commercial mediation and, you know, one of the things like, it is or should be more evaluative. It’s the style of mediation and that, perhaps is more suited to this problem solving approach. You know, I’m not gonna put it in the male or female camp, but I think that, you know, there is that particular style of mediation that many lawyers are drawn to seeking, which is more evaluative. It hasn’t been my style. And if that’s not your style, you’ve got to be able to find your own style of mediation and then almost be able to explain what it is. You know, you can’t have the assumption on your client’s part that you are going to be an evaluative mediator and then you turn up and you’re not. So you’ve got to, within all these different options of mediation, you’ve got to find your own path, your own style, and then be very clear what that is and how it helps your clients particularly.
  • Mia: So kind of explain, being able to explain, why the way you’ve chosen to do things works.
  • Jane Gunn: Yeah, so for example, you talked about the slow mediation, Mia, and I’ve always felt that giving mediation one day and saying, you know, you get off the conveyor belt for one day and if you haven’t solved it by the end of the day, you get back on again. But what happens if it would be better if you chopped that day up into pieces and I gave people time to reflect as we have done in our mediation training and say, well, maybe if we had two or three hours today, and then you went away and thought about it for a bit, and then you came back, and with that reflection we could move on and work on, you know, the next part of the mediation. And for many of my clients, I found that works really well, particularly if it is within the context of a partnership or a boardroom, those ongoing relationships. It makes time to sort of go away and think about it and process what have I actually learned about myself in the mediation as well as what are some of the solutions we could come up?
  • Mia: And I think we’re all learning more of the possibility of that and having it accepted more actually with online mediation, because, you know, sitting in front of a computer for a day, it is really tiring. So we naturally start to begin or at least those mediations that I know and I begin to chop it up into these smaller chunks, and then you have this sort of more flexibility. Yeah.
  • Jane Gunn: Yeah. So yeah, online mediation. I never thought I would be drawn to it. It has offered these opportunities to chop mediations up without having to say to people go away and come back next week.
  • Mia: Yes. Yes. I think we’ve all been surprised by how effective it is. Certainly my experience before COVID was I thought, I’d done some, but I thought it had worked by accident rather than because it actually could. So over time, I think things have changed in the world of mediation in relation to the presence of women in mediation and how sort of standard or not standard that is. What needs to change, what has changed and what needs to change more?
  • Jane Gunn: I mean a lot has changed. You talked about me being the upcoming President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. When I joined there, I think, as a dispute resolution body, not only representing mediators, but this sort of whole spectrum of arbitrators, but we had only 15% of women as a membership and certainly represented at board level or as president really, you know, it was not many women. So that, you know, I think the sort of whole world of dispute resolution has opened up much more to women. And I think the more we are active, you know, the more we do represent, you know, a mainstream choice, if you like, that we have now reached that level of seniority, of having been in the marketplace for many, many years and built our reputation. So I think, you know, we are just getting to that stage where there are a number of women now who have reached that level of seniority in the mediation world. And I think that that helps others to then move on up and, you know, and find their own place. ‘Cause their place will be different than my place. Their skills would be different than my skills. There’s much more to development and still to do, I think. So.
  • Mia: And so we’ve advanced sort of in terms of women being more integrated and just more present and available. In terms of the sort of user side in commercial mediation, people have a tendency, which I think is understandable, to use the people that they’ve used before, that they’ve gotten good results with. And often those might be older men. So what needs to change in that space or what could change in that space?
  • Jane Gunn: I think the only way for me, I mean, everything is about relationships, but, you know, I have to make the effort to get to know people because it is who you know, like, and trust. And that’s what those that choose mediators are actually doing. They’re choosing someone they already know, like, and trust. So, you know, that’s what we as women have to build are those relationships, we have to sort of be able to go to law firms, to law firm partners, and build those relationships. There’s no substitute for that, really. It isn’t necessarily an old boys club. It’s just that those are the people they know. So we have to be prepared to sort of go and build those relationships or do it online in the time we’re in now, so.
  • Mia: So very much it’s, in a sense, it’s in our hands as those who want to be more involved in mediation to step forward and build those relationships
  • Jane Gunn: Yeah.
  • Mia: And become more, more of the mainstream.
  • Jane Gunn: Yes. I do think so, Mia. It is up to us.
  • Mia: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Is there anything else, any final words you would like to leave us with?
  • Jane Gunn: No, particularly, I mean, as you say, I’m very passionate about different ways and I’ve developed and now are thinking about barefoot mediation, which is how anybody can integrate the skills of mediation. It was, what’s the bare essential skills of mediators that could be integrated into the workplace. If anybody’s interested to learn more about barefoot mediation, they may contact me.
  • Mia: Wonderful, thank you, Jane. So anyone who wants barefoot mediation get in touch with Jane Gunn. Thank you so much for your time today. It has been so lovely talking to you on camera and off camera. Jane Gunn, thank you so much.
  • Jane Gunn: Thank you, Mia.