Women in Mediation – an interview with Rosemary Jackson QC

In my second interview in my series of Women in Mediation I interview Rosemary Jackson QC on being a woman in commercial mediation. What are the challenges and how to overcome them?

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 nonetheless 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, Jane Gunn, 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?

Mia Forbes Pirie interviewing Rosemary Jackson QC:

Tell us about you and your practice?

I’m a full-time commercial mediator working in the UK and internationally. As a barrister I have always practised in construction and engineering disputes so that’s generally the type of dispute that comes to me as a mediator.  I think that, for disputes in specialised fields people tend to value having a mediator who speaks their language and understands the challenges that arise. 

Tell us a bit about your journey in mediation as a woman?

I think I was always a mediator at heart.  Although there are few things as exciting for a barrister as conducting a trial in court I have always been acutely aware that litigation is risky, expensive and gobbles up people’s time and energy.  Even before I had heard of mediation I was always keen for my clients to explore the possibility of settlement before going too far in litigation.  They often felt that it would be a sign of weakness to suggest negotiation.  It is great that mediation in construction has become so mainstream that it is now discussed between parties as a matter of course.  It is something they will do at some stage and they need only think about when to mediate and who to appoint as their mediator.  The courts expect no less.  So mediation has became a safe place to explore compromise with no loss of face.

I qualified as a mediator in 2001 and dabbled for a few years before deciding that I wanted to make a go of it.  It also took a while to build up the confidence that I could do it as a serious part of my practice.

I was then faced with the eternal problem – how do you break into a field which has a small number of well-known and highly respected practitioners who appear to get all the appointments?  This has always been an issue because mediation is such a personal skill.  It has always seemed to me that parties and their advisers will look to appoint a mediator that they have previously used, or who has been recommended by someone who has used them.  Directories probably come third.  But to appoint someone you have not seen in action, and who is not personally recommended is a big gamble.  You can see that someone is a good barrister, solicitor, architect but that doesn’t make it easy to judge whether they would be a good mediator.  Appointing an unknown mediator is a big risk so it’s easy to see why people prefer to appoint the devil they know.

For this reason I decided that being seen in a mediation context was important.  I gave talks, wrote articles and gave training sessions for potential users.  My aim was that next time people thought about mediating, my name might come to mind.  It’s getting that first appointment from someone that matters.  After that its up to me to perform well enough to get recommendations and repeat business.

It was slow going and I was pleased that I still had my practice as a barrister to keep me afloat.  But year by year I increased the number of mediations and by 2014 I was ready to give up practising as a barrister.  By 2018 I had also given up sitting as a part time judge, arbitrator and adjudicator. At last I knew I had built the full-time practice I wanted, doing the work I love.

What advice do you have for other women in mediation?

Have the confidence to see yourself as a person in mediation, not a woman in mediation.  Everyone, however gendered, will have to work very hard to break into mediation and there is no reason why being a woman should make this harder.  This job is about good preparation, good people skills and a drive to help people resolve their disputes.  Neither gender has the monopoly on these attributes.

What are the struggles that women, in particular, face in commercial mediation?

Combining family responsibilities with mediation is bound to be an issue for all carers.  My mediations are often complex, multi-party disputes that can’t be resolved by tea time so that can cause issues.  On the other hand, they are not the sort of disputes you can do back-to-back so it’s possible to plan days off in between.  In the early days I booked a day off immediately after every mediation and took myself off to a museum or gallery to recover after what could be a long and tiring day.  Building in family time was important too.

I think virtual mediation has brought a great change.  Because you can mediate from home it is possible to be on hand for the family.  If mediations go on into the evening there is often a participant (not always female) who has to supervise bath time, stop a fight or pop out to collect a child.  We can work around that well.

How have things changed and what still needs to change to make mediation more accessible to women?

I hope that mediators are appointed because of their abilities, not their gender.  Accessibility is an issue whatever your gender and I think we still need to work on the problem that people appoint mediators they know are good and remain reluctant to try someone new.

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