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Empowering women in the workplace – the Women@Berkeley Network relaunch

Sameera Simjee

Partner Sameera Simjee is one of the sponsors of the recently relaunched Women@Berkeley Network. She explains why the time was right to reinvigorate the network and what Berkeley’s people want it to achieve.

Aligning with our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy

To align with our ongoing and evolving commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, Berkeley is reinvigorating the Women@Berkeley Network, led by our consultants Anne-lise Antolinos and Jenna Goldstein. The group had previously been active, providing Berkeley’s women with social and professional networking opportunities over the years. Now, we want to take the initiative further, with a focus on fostering a truly inclusive environment, where every woman has the opportunity to achieve their full potential. We know the Women@Berkeley Network can play a key role in helping both Berkeley to achieve its DE&I ambitions and our women to succeed. 

This felt particularly appropriate following the impact of the pandemic lockdowns, which according to research shared by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, has been more severe for women. Many of Berkeley’s women found themselves juggling their various responsibilities while feeling increasingly disconnected from one another. The easing of restrictions gave us the impetus to be more ambitious with what the Women@Berkeley Network could and should offer. 

A women’s network valued by all

While Women@Berkeley will focus firmly on celebrating and championing women, it was also important for the network to be useful and valuable to everyone at Berkeley. We recognize the importance of managers – both male and female – in supporting and mentoring women at all levels, instilling them with confidence, being role-models, and empowering them as future leaders.

We believe every individual within an organization has a role to play in building a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

To ensure that all our people could offer their input and feel a sense of ownership over the initiative, everyone from across the firm was welcome to attend the special relaunch event. Berkeley has long been proud of its collaborative culture and so the Women@Berkeley refresh was no different. Men and women from both our U.K. and U.S. offices gathered hybrid-style to share their experiences and discuss ideas for the network’s future priorities. 

Supporting women: reaching out, leaning in and building up

Following breakout session discussions, we discovered a popular theme was the need to grow and develop our external network. As well as inward focus, our people were keen that Women@Berkeley facilitate access to external speakers and events to ensure we learn from other experiences and points of view. The hope was that Berkeley would in turn be able to share more externally, from speaking engagements to mentorship and outreach.

But it was equally important for many of our people that Women@Berkeley continues to build internal communities. This included providing a forum for discussing challenging topics, such as dealing with workplace conflict, balancing work with motherhood, women’s health issues, and tackling imposter syndrome. Our women talked about their need for peer support and encouragement, and the value in sharing their experiences as women in the workplace.

There was also significant appetite for more career development support for women. Ideas ranged from specific women-focused learning programs to more informal mentorship from senior women. Our people recognized the value in a varied approach, given that different women will have different needs. We must develop a working environment that supports diverse personal and professional growth.

Achieving real outcomes for women in the workplace

For our next steps, as part of the network, a working group has formed which is reviewing the ideas raised at the relaunch meeting. The group will develop a plan for immediate priorities and determine roles and responsibilities to turn strategy into action. The ambition is not only to build momentum but to integrate the Women@Berkeley network into the very fabric of the firm. 

Ensuring representation is only ever a first step; we must continue making a real impact. From empowering Berkeley’s women to achieve their career goals, to giving back and supporting the next generation of women and girls, we’re not shy about what we want to achieve. I’m proud to say we have the passion and commitment to turn these big ambitions into meaningful outcomes.