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Women in Mediation – an interview with Samantha Lowe

In my third Women in Mediation interview, I am in conversation with the amazing Samantha Lowe, who developed a full time mediation practice in just 2 years. 

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 Gunn, Jane Andrewartha, Rosemary Jackson QC, 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 Forbes Pirie: Hello and welcome we’re here today with Samantha Lowe who is a mediator. I’m Mia Forbes Pirie, and we here to talk about women in mediation. And this comes off the back of me doing a video for We Are The City about how you choose to challenge. And I chose not to talk about the challenges of women in mediation where I was told not to become a mediator or definitely not a commercial mediator ’cause I wasn’t male and middle aged. And it wasn’t necessarily bad advice at the time, there was good intention behind it but it made me curious what other women are experiencing in the sector or have experienced and what they’re seeing as the changes and that I wanted to hear other people’s story. So we’re here with Sam and I’d just like to ask you Sam to introduce yourself a little bit and to tell us a little bit about your practice.
  • Samantha Lowe: Thank you, thanks for having me. I’m absolutely honoured to have been asked to speak to you. I have been mediating now for the last four years and initially I was solicitor qualified in commercial litigation for the last 15 years and always been massively interested in mediation and always wanted to mediate and mediate full-time, which I am now very thankfully doing as a full-time career and I’ve hung my solicitor hat up now, if you like. So it’s an absolute pleasure to talk to you today.

“I always wanted to mediate and mediate full-time”

SAMANTHA LOWE
  • Mia Forbes Pirie:  It’s wonderful to have you here. And do you want to talk a little bit about your specialisation in mediation?
  • Samantha Lowe: Yes, so I’ve got a commercial litigation background and within that I specialised as a solicitor in private wealth litigation. So anything from contested probate, contested trusts and estates, agricultural disputes, succession disputes whether that’ll be family succession or whether that’ll be business succession, but usually with quite a sort of an integral relationship there that’s an issue and some private wealth things going on in the background. And I was always sort of things like that were put on my desk because it was oh Sam you’ll be able to deal with that. There’s more emotion involved in that than the usual sort of blanket commercial stuff. So I ended up just going down that route and worked with some fantastic mediators with my solicitor hat on, so I used to think there needs to be mediators out there who have those skills to be able to yes, look at things purely commercial and be firm when we need to but also get involved with the emotions and the dynamics behind it. And so I’ve ended up going into that and that’s pretty much my specialism for mediation as well now it’s a very sort of niche area for me but one that I absolutely love to practice in and out and I’m loving being able to it’s perfect for mediation. So it makes it great to be mediator in that.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie:  That sounds great. And I also love this sort of mix between the highly emotional, but also the sort of the hard nosed law and the commercial side. And I think that’s where mediation kind of finds itself with that combination.
  • Samantha Lowe: Absolutely. 
  • Mia Forbes Pirie:  So it’s wonderful that you’ve found that and you found this is my niche and this is where I’m comfortable and where I can shine. Amazing. 

And so tell us a bit about this journey. You said a little bit about the journey towards mediation but how has it been the last four years and in particular as a woman, any different maybe than as a man?

  • Samantha Lowe: I think to pick up on something you said in your introduction, one of the first things that I did when I decided I want to do this and I want to do this before it’s a retirement plan and before it’s the last sort of five years of my career. I spoke to a few mediators who I worked with and again, got very similar advice that you received and I think to be honest with you probably did come from a good place at the time and it was probably because they felt that it might’ve been the realistic thing to say to me. And so it was that whole, you know, you’re not middle-aged, you’re not male and you look very different, probably speak very different and actually with my Northern accent to a lot of mediators out there specialising in this area. And so it’s gonna be a struggle. 

“I want to do this before it’s a retirement plan”

SAMANTHA LOWE

I think I was never naive to that it was gonna be a struggle. And at the time personally for me, I was at a point in my solicitor career where I thought if I don’t do it now, I’m just gonna be the sort of the partner levels going up and up and how am I ever gonna get out of that? And personally I then fell pregnant at the exact time that I made this decision and it all sort of fell into place that if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it. And despite everybody telling me this I’m just going to do it and what’s the worst that can happen. So I started off knowing probably not thinking from agenda perspective but just thinking it was gonna be a struggle generally to get out there and to get a reputation out there and knowing that all these things in the background looking different and being different to what the current offering was and sort of four years ago. 

And so started to build the practice by just getting as much work in as I could in doing it but also being a consultant as a solicitor at the same time and knowing that at one point I want to let go of that. Luckily, two years into that four year journey was able to sort of say to those consultancy roles, right, I’m now gonna just be headfirst into the mediation and go for it full time and try and sort of do it as I want to do it and also send that message out to everybody that it can be a career. It can be a full-time career, you don’t have to sort of do all this juggling if you can make it work and be able to. So there was just no way that I could practice full-time in a commercial law firm working 70 hours a week or whatever I was doing at the time, and try and build a mediation practice. It would have been very very difficult at less I wanted it to be a significantly long-term plan of a bit of a retirement plan which I didn’t want it to be. 

And so, yeah, so then about two years ago, two and a half years ago now I started mediating exclusively and so far so good. And I do like to touch wood about that and I think that really helps with a lot of things, you know, in terms of being that person who everybody who’s instructing you knows that you’re not competition with them that you’re never gonna be on the other side to them there’s been no previous, you might have been on the other side a long time ago but it’s not gonna happen, you know, the following week and all those things, that really helps as well. 

So yeah, it’s the journey so far is going well despite the things that were were said to me at the beginning, again, I do say it probably did come from a good place and I have quite a lot of male mediators who I speak to at the moment as peers who helped me in the absolutely fantastic and that type of thing but yeah.

  • Mia Forbes Pirie:  That’s amazing. And I think it’s amazing. It sounds like you had a transition where you did sort of law and mediation for a couple of years, but you were very clear that you didn’t want – and a lot of people say, you know you have to have a portfolio career for quite a while – but you decided you were gonna focus on this, you’re gonna do it full time. And actually there wasn’t time to do both and to build the practice.

Yeah. And I think in some ways that’s quite unusual and brave. How did you nurture and build this practice? And what advice do you have for other women who are maybe starting out in mediation or even further along?

  • Samantha Lowe: I think I nurtured it with getting myself out there really and keeping on going despite the fact that one mediation might come in, you know, at the very beginning, and then it not be anything for weeks and weeks or a couple of months, and thinking, you know, how do I keep going? And I think it’s a case of keep being you and keep battering down those doors and keep talking to people and then once you mediate for them and they can see you, you know, doing what you do. Then comes that natural organic sort of where the work comes as a result of sort of reputation and constantly working with the same people, which has been sort of really lucky for me if you like that in the sector that I’m working in and what wants this sort of niche sector can see that you can have that blend of the dealing with the emotional dynamics and really allowing those to come through but also having the legal background and the commercial background to be able to then be firm with those people and at the right time in the day. Sort of use that to say right now is the time where we need to start making progress and I think there was no sort of magic answer really. 

“Just stay true to yourself and be you and let your personality and you come through in everything that you do”

SAMANTHA LOWE

And I think it’s a case of, I was speaking to somebody about this yesterday, she’s just embarking on her mediation career. And I was saying to her to try and just really stay true to yourself and really be you and let your personality and you come through in everything that you do: when it comes to CV, when it comes to website, when it comes to those conversations with the lawyers in advance. Because if you allow, you know, going to where you’re networking a lot with the mediators and you allow the way certain other people do things to then impose themselves onto you, and you then become the different person, all of a sudden, you’re one of many, I suppose irrespective of gender who might not be approaching things slightly differently and just not being yourself. And then the difficulty can then come with are you getting regular work? And is it coming to you to be able to make that next brave step?

  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Yeah, so keep being you… sorry, go on.
  • Samantha Lowe: Yeah, just keep being you there’s probably something to be said I think in the step that I made that sent out the message to everybody that this is now what I’m doing if that makes sense I think it was something in that, and it was very scary thing to do but luckily it’s been sort of, it’s worked well
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Taking that leap?
  • Samantha Lowe: Yes. 
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: And so you’re saying, keep being you, keep banging on doors, and when you get work do a good job and people will hire you again. And then you kind of build those relationships over time and don’t distort who you are to kind of fit in and become someone else.
  • Samantha Lowe: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, yeah.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: And we were talking actually before the interview and I was saying how important I think congruence is. And I think that fits exactly with what you’re saying, the importance of not being one person one day and another person another day even though we have different facets of our personality. And I think that’s even more important in mediation because you’re the person who has to keep driving the thing along when everyone else is thinking of giving up. And so you really need to take care of your energy and it’s so much easier to do that when you’re being you as opposed to trying to present a different image, yeah.
  • Samantha Lowe: Yes, absolutely. And during that process that you say you’ll come across certain types of personalities and certain people who will be very very difficult. And I think the only way you can keep digging deep and trying to battle through that is by being you because if you’ve lost you, and you’re trying to behave in a certain way, then you can lose control of the process very quickly I think.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So you mentioned kind of difficult people but what are the struggles that women in particular face in commercial mediation in your opinion?
  • Samantha Lowe: I think that the difficulties we face are that it’s been a very male dominated sort of industry. And I think that the struggles are getting to a point where I suppose when I’ve used the phrase earlier of battering down the doors, but trying – you know, getting through those doors and convincing people to work with you and to give you a go and that you are slightly different but that you are going to bring a lot of different things to the table as a result. And let’s see if it works for your particular disputes and clients and I think that struggle is there to get through the door initially. 

And I think we touched on this earlier there’s a slight struggle still with once you’re at the mediation. So you’ve been instructed in any event to attend – so gender is not an issue you’re there everybody’s agreed that you were gonna be this person dealing with the day but sometimes you get third parties involved in that day who might not have known even until the morning of that day, who the mediator was. 

“You get third parties involved …who might not have known… who the mediator was. And you then come across certain struggles.”

SAMANTHA LOWE

And you then come across certain struggles of certain reactions to that, that you can feel immediately and sometimes you’re very quickly going through that process in your mind of how do I deal with this? And what is the reason for that? And unfortunately sometimes I do feel that the reason might be because you’re male – female, sorry, and not male. 

One of the things that I do certainly at the moment is, and it’s been a bit of a laugh recently, but “Samantha” will always be on the screen because I’ve had so many times where people have expected, “Sam” to be male. So it’s just little things like that where you already conscious of it and you know that – and I’ll do that because then that will already address that issue if that issue is there. 

And so I think there are still certainly struggles in a commercial context for women where we do have a little bit of a battle to overcome sometimes – not all the time – and I don’t want to paint it to be a negative thing because I certainly do think that there’s a lot of positives and certainly me now doing it full time shows that it’s absolutely possible. And working with fantastic people a lot of the time. 

“Would that have happened to a man?”

SAMANTHA LOWE

But, you know, you’ve got some of the third parties sometimes who weren’t expecting it and also some clients who might have unconscious behaviours that they’re not even aware of and you can become quite aware of that quite quickly and you start to think, how do I deal with this? And the example I gave on LinkedIn recently was turning up and immediately the client saying ‘if you wore on your hair up just for me?’ and immediately commenting on how I looked, and it’s one of those things where you think – would that have happened to a man? If I just say, you know, it wouldn’t, I think we can probably say that it wouldn’t happen. And so them struggles are there when you immediately start the day with, right, okay, this is what we’re dealing with now. So I’ve got to, you know…

  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Yeah. I thought it was really interesting that you said that sometimes, you know, most of the time, it’s fine with the parties who’ve selected you, occasionally not, but then third parties come in and there’s sort of some, I don’t know, discomfort there. And it’s interesting to me because it maybe speaks to what’s in the background of the market the people who wouldn’t select a female mediator who were there, and we don’t really come across them when we get selected, when it’s just our clients. But somewhere out there they’re there and they’re probably sort of a little sort of more biassed towards male mediators.
  • Samantha Lowe: Yeah, absolutely.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So that’s interesting in terms of a barrier to entry and then there’s things that are just different between men and women, yeah.
  • Samantha Lowe: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a safe conclusion.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: And my last but not least question or who knows where we’ll end up going, how have things changed in your experience and what still needs to change to make mediation more accessible to women?
  • Samantha Lowe: I think that things have changed in that I am seeing and meeting more and more female mediators. And I think that just reflecting on my own practice and like we’ve said about the fact that you do get regular instruction and the ability to be able to do this as a career shows that things have massively changed. 

“It’s really refreshing to hear more and more female names being mentioned.”

SAMANTHA LOWE

I would say even in the very short time that I decided to start on a mediation career and reflecting back even from when I qualified, I probably only ever myself instructed two female mediators over that top 10 year period and I don’t think that was because, it was certainly not because, there was any bias from me, but more of because those people weren’t there in that specialism that I needed them to be in. And so there’s more and more of that coming through and when I speak to people talking about who they’ve instructed, it’s really refreshing to hear more and more female names being mentioned. 

“All those conversations just need to not take place … to give people the confidence that gender isn’t an issue.”

SAMANTHA LOWE

But I think, in terms of how things need to change, I suppose that message that ultimately is being sent – whether it comes from a good place or not – of “this isn’t a career for you”. And maybe you should think differently. And, you know, even things like how would you do this? If it’s becoming fully self-employed at the point that you might want to start a family all those things, all those conversations just need to not take place and that change needs to happen to give people the confidence that gender isn’t an issue. Even though the reality, you know, we need to talk about the realities and I suppose more and more female mediators putting ourselves out there to say, talk to us about it as well we can give you the encouragement and that type of thing to move forward with it as a career.

  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So you’re saying in the past there just weren’t so many female mediators so it was harder to select a female mediator and part of it might’ve been this sort of barrier to entry that we’d been talking about in terms of the, you know don’t become a mediator and it is tough, it is a struggle at the beginning in mediation for everyone. But maybe to pitch it like that, rather than to focus on needing to be male and middle aged as I was told and you were told something similar. To just say, yeah, this is challenging, you have to really want to do it, but if you really want to do it, there’s a seat at the table and more and more.
  • Samantha Lowe: Absolutely, absolutely. And whenever I have initial conversations with people who are just starting out, hardly ever is the conversation focused on gender, our age. It’s focused on, yes, this is a very difficult path to take, yes, this is a very difficult industry to get into and talking about how you do that and tips about how to do it and skills that you need and the business skills that you need and none of the focus is on the fact that you’re not male and middle-aged. It’s incredibly important that that message is sort of out there.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Fantastic, thank you. Any final words or thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
  • Samantha Lowe: That’s always a very difficult one, Isn’t it? The open-ended one. I think in terms of encouraging people who are watching this and thinking about whether they want to enter into mediation or whether they have got the qualification a while ago and they’re finding it really difficult. I think it is a case of speaking to people and sort of really really keeping on going and being true to yourself and being who you are and recognising that as a woman, we do bring a lot of soft skills to the table and a lot of additional value like that, and to really use that, and that’s what can really help with mediation itself whether it’s a purely commercial matter or whether it’s a family driven matter those things are really important. And to always be true to you and your instincts of what you think is gonna help in this situation.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So be who you are, be true to yourself, keep banging on those doors, and recognise the talents that you have, that help out in make mediation work.
  • Samantha Lowe: Absolutely.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Fantastic, thank you so much for talking to us, Samantha Lowe, wonderful and…
  • Samantha Lowe: Thank you for having me.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: It’s been great, thank you so much.