The team at Hesketh Henry are proud to announce that Partner, Helen Macfarlane has been recognised as one of the 35 standout female leaders of the profession for 2021. Helen joined Hesketh Henry’s litigation and disputes team in 2007, becoming a partner in 2017.
Helen has long been an outside-the-box trail-blazer – obtaining her law degree from Oxford and being admitted to the Bar of England & Wales, then practicing in New York for 15 years before coming back to her New Zealand roots. During the course of a career spanning three decades and all over the world she has moved from it being the norm for her to be the only woman in a room of male lawyers to an environment where women take a more proportionate role in the legal profession. It has been an interesting progression she says from a time when women had to prove first and foremost that they could be as aggressive as their male counterparts to an era of appreciation of the differing skillsets and approaches that women can bring to the table. “There is recognition that women are to be valued for the qualities they offer rather than for how well they can emulate being a man.”
Of course, there is a ways yet to go, and with Hesketh Henry, Helen has developed her career in the construction sector, long one of the last bastions for women to breach, and is now an established leader in the field. For the last three years Helen has been a council member of the Society of Construction Law and has been pleased to see the involvement of women increase even over that time. “My perception is that the tide has begun to turn over the last several years and I am delighted to see women in a range of positions in the legal side of the construction sector from QCs and partners in law firms, to in-house counsel of some of our leading construction companies and consultancies, to chairs of professional organisations.”
Helen comments that the increase in opportunities for women has come hand in hand with an acceptance of more flexible working frameworks – of working part time and from home. Women still disproportionately tend to be the family care-givers and so this flexibility is critical to enabling them to maintain and advance their careers. Helen herself has proven this can totally be done – for a number of years she was the sole caregiver of an elderly parent with dementia. “That time was very hard” she comments “but Hesketh Henry was happy for me to work part time and from home and that was a tremendous help in being able to care for my mother while at the same time maintaining my career and personal sanity”. The recent challenges of living in a COVID world have propelled wfh into the mainstream. “We have learned we can function perfectly well under flexible working environments and we can expect to see more women (and men) take advantage of this going forward.”
Helen looks forward to a future where more barriers are broken and the legal profession is still more diverse in terms of gender, cultural and racial mix. There are many challenges ahead in that regard, she says, but these are exciting times and the next generation of men and women entering the profession are well-placed to build on the advances we have made.