Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co partner Veena Sivaramakrishnan gives her opinions on gender equality in India's legal profession


How do you think the covid-19 pandemic has or will impact gender parity in the legal profession within your jurisdiction?

At the end of the day, it is about accepting equal responsibility dehors of gender differences. It is a hope therefore that gender parity doesn’t get impacted.


What obstacles have you had to contend with during your legal career that related to your gender?

When I was an intern, I was told by a renowned senior counsel that criminal law litigation is not for me. What earlier felt as a gender comment, years later got clarified as a personality comment.

From a personal experience, I have had no obstacles. Whether at home within family or in my professional career, including in previous organisations, I have never felt gender as an issue which came across as an obstacle. From what one sees around us though, it would be really nice to see more women litigators in criminal law.


From the perspective of gender equality how does the environment in which you work now compare to the one you began your career in?

Both organisations (Juris Corp and Shardul Amarchand) have believed in and actively practice gender equality. I don’t see a difference.


Do you feel the legal profession within the jurisdiction where you are based treats women and men equally? If there are inconsistencies where are these most noticeable?

I think the profession is noble and treats women and men equally. The opportunities taken by women may however be a matter of personal choice.


Who do you consider have been the leading figures in your jurisdiction’s legal profession in improving or challenging gender equality in the last decade and why?

Pallavi Shroff, managing partner, and Gunjan Shah, partner, (both at SAM) have been stark examples of ensuring gender equality. Whether it is they themselves, or it is in the way they function with people within their teams and / or the firm, they have never let gender even be a thought in their mind, let alone a factor under consideration.


Are there any initiatives within the legal profession in your jurisdiction to promote gender equality?

Yes, but more needs to be done across firms and chambers to propagate this by action beyond words.


What initiatives do you have in place at your firm to promote gender equality? Does your firm have other diversity programmes?

The firm has various programmes, including diversity and inclusion programmes in place. I think the biggest factor for me in SAM has been that this has never really been an issue which needed deliberation. That goes to show the parity reflected.


Does the legal profession within your jurisdiction or your firm have any initiatives to support working mothers? If they are, do you think they are sufficient?

I do think there are initiatives. I haven’t personally been in a situation where I had to evaluate this.


How does your firm compare to others in your market when considering gender equality?

I think SAM leads by example would suffice to say when it comes to questions on gender equality.


What do you feel are the biggest obstacles for women in your jurisdiction joining the legal profession now?

I think the need to have more women litigators in criminal law specifically requires work.

Do you feel women are well represented at partner level and in management positions in firms within the jurisdiction where you are based? If not, what do you think can be done to ensure women are well represented in these positions?

In the firm that I am a part of, I certainly feel women are well represented at partner level and management positions.

Not in my firm, but generally speaking, this becomes an issue where women, as a choice, decide to not be in managerial positions. As long as it is a choice exercised and not forced upon, and as long as the woman who made the choice is happy, I don’t think this should be a concern at all.


What advice would you give to women in junior positions to encourage them to work towards attaining senior positions?

Ask - Ask for what you feel is right. Whether it is pay, designation or any other opportunity – always ask for what you feel you deserve. It is important to remember that it is easier for you to ask than for someone to refuse your request, because the refusal requires reasons to be given, which requires thinking. More often than not, people are bundled in their own prejudices and therefore do not analyse their action, but when questioned, would be quick enough to realise their shortcoming and accept it and make the change.

Make it a culture – be a part of the culture where this is not overtly emphasised or needs to be so. We have moved from the times where equal rights needed to be demanded. It should be a part of the culture today. Ensure that you also practice this by action and not just words.


If you could introduce one policy related to gender equality in the legal profession what would it be?

In any organisation, big or small, there should be an unwritten rule that the partners recruit almost equal men and women. It should start at the ground level of team having equal representation. It would not happen at all times, but if a partner is conscious about this, they would ensure that at least equal opportunities are given, which would lead to the culture of equality.