Tanja Velling

Senior Professional Support Lawyer from our Tax group tells us about what Break the Bias means to her and the challenges faced by women

What does Break the Bias mean to you? Are there, for example, any specific forms of bias that you have worked/are working to break or in respect of which you think further work needs to be done to break them?

My answer is partly borne out of having a history of anxiety and depression. To me, breaking the bias means to become conscious of, interrogate and challenge preconceptions of what it means to be a woman and be successful. For a long time, part of the image of success for me would have been straightened hair, high heels and a designer handbag – even though I hate blow-drying my hair, feel much more comfortable in flats and prefer a rucksack. Being ok (or, perhaps, even happy) with the way in which I am a woman and successful is an ongoing project. I believe that the way in which we are encouraged to bring our whole selves to work helps with this, as does, although admittedly in a smaller way, the way in which dress codes in the city have been relaxed, in particular following the pandemic.

How can allies help to break the bias (or any specific form of bias)?

In my view, one of the most important things that allies can do is to listen respectfully, and to try and broaden their horizon, by seeking out different perspectives and information from different sources, including (or, perhaps, most importantly) as part of their routine consumption of news and media.  

Who inspires you?

Greta Thunberg, as well as all other students striking for the climate, as they advocate and take action for their future and what they believe in.

What have you done since the start of the pandemic to help drive diversity and inclusion – either in a professional or personal way?

One very small thing was to diversify the content I consume on Instagram. For example, I have started to follow a number of black British and feminist artists, fat acceptance advocates and accounts of persons with a disability or living with life-threatening illnesses. And, while I still enjoy a good kitten or puppy picture, the animal rescue account I follow also draws attention, for example, to the racism experienced by Asian-American animal rescuers (which actually made me try and challenge a joke based around the supposed eating habits of certain Asian communities that contribute to this type of bias). Sometimes, it can feel as if the internet, and in particular social media, brings out the worst, but it can also be uplifting, educational, challenging and inspiring, in that we can get glimpses of other people’s lives and experiences which may, overall, help us to develop a much richer and less biased understanding of what it means to be human.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women?

That many global issues such as climate change disproportionately affect women when they have, at the same time, proportionately less power to take action to address them.

What one piece of advice would you give a woman entering the legal sector?

When starting out, it is important to find role models and it can often even be a good idea to try and emulate their behaviour to some extent. However, ultimately, it is key to find one’s own authentic style; I think this is often referred to as a personal brand – although it is also important not to worry too much about this, as it will, to some extent, develop naturally over time.

Who was/is your mentor – and why?

I have had a number of mentors over the years. In my view, a key trait of a good mentor is the ability to give the mentee space to develop whilst also helping nudge them in the right direction through empathetic questions based on active listening.

Who would you say is a role model, either in the firm or outside it?

Jane Edwarde as a representative of those who “having made it” do not merely rest and enjoy their success, but take bold action to try and enable others follow in their footsteps.

What do you think has been the most positive step forward for gender equality over the last few years?

Admittedly, based on anecdotal evidence, I believe, there is now a larger proportion of male professional support lawyers than a decade ago. I think that’s great because it suggests to me that it has perhaps become more acceptable for men to pursue alternative career paths, and this may indicate that biases pushing women towards (unpaid) work inside the home have shifted to some extent.