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News > Alumni News > International Women's Day: Catching up with Claire Bowler

International Women's Day: Catching up with Claire Bowler

To celebrate International Women's Day 2023 on 8 March, we're shedding a spotlight on female Allanians who have gone on to achieve success in their chosen careers. 
16 Mar 2023
Alumni News

We have caught up with some of our fantastic female Allanians in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March and found out what inspired them to pursue their different careers.

Today we catch up with Claire Bowler, who left Dame Allan’s Schools in 1994 and has gone on to become Global Head of Insurance at law firm DWF.

Tell us about your career and what inspired you to follow this path.

I was fascinated by the law from a young age – I think my mum watched a lot of Columbo and police dramas that inspired me! I did work experience at 16 with the mum of one of the Dame Allan’s boys in my year, who gave me time and advice about a career in the law, for which I will always be grateful.

That continued to spark my interest and I focused throughout my A levels on securing a place to read Law at university, and then subsequently went to Law School in London, before starting my career as a Trainee Solicitor in the City. 

Nobody in my family was a lawyer and so it was something that I wanted to prove I could achieve. I moved law firms a few times as I got promoted, becoming a partner at 32 and a full equity partner at 34. In 2008 I was one of two founding partners of DWF’s London office and we occupy floors 31 and 32 of the Walkie Talkie building in London, so we have the most amazing views of the City and the river from the office! I am now the Global Head of the Insurance Sector, and I sat on the main Strategic Board from 2016-2019. That was a proud moment and career highlight as it was the first time a woman had been elected to the Board. 

In my day job I act for major worldwide insurers and am Client Partner for some of the firm’s largest clients. Other career highlights were in 2019 when I won ‘Insurance Lawyer of the Year’ at the inaugural Woman in Insurance Awards in London, and in 2011 when I won the ‘Woman of Achievement Award’ for the Insurance Category in the Women in the City Awards. 

I have always championed the careers of women, sitting on the Board of I-Win for many years (the Insurance Womens’ Inclusivity Network) and organising many charity events with charities like Dress for Success who support women back into the workplace.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day to me provides a focus to celebrate girls and women all over the world, and to honour and think about women who face all sorts of different challenges. Those challenges may be huge gender discrimination and inequalities in legal, civil and human rights in countries around the world, through to the daily juggle of work and family life for women, through to women who are full time carers, be it for elderly relatives, young children or family members. 

Women give a lot of themselves to other people, especially families and colleagues, and this gives us a day to pause for reflection on some of the challenges that women have across the globe, and also to reflect on those women throughout history who have lost their freedom or indeed lives whilst championing womens’ rights. 

It is a day to celebrate how far we have come towards gender equality, but we should also reflect on those that came before us who fought for the things that we take for granted today.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is ‘Embrace Equity.’ How do you Embrace Equity in your daily life?

The concepts of fairness and justice are really important concepts. Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity recognises that we do not all start from the same place and should acknowledge and make adjustments to any imbalances. A good practical example of this for me has been in using blind CVs when recruiting into our team and making adjustments for working parents. It is really important to appreciate the daily challenges that people deal with, to support them through difficult times and to provide a happy and supportive environment – they are all aims I try to live by. 

There are also some great schemes I have been involved with which promote equity – DWF’s own 5 Star Futures education programme with schools and The Brokerage, which helps disadvantaged young people fulfil their potential through access to professional career opportunities.

 Which women inspire you the most? Did any particular female teachers inspire you?

The women within my own family inspire me the most – my amazing mum, my sister and my own daughter. 

My mum has always been a huge inspiration for me. Where I am in my life today and in my career I owe to her, and of course to my dad. Without their help and unwavering support, sacrifice and love, I would not be in the position I am in today.

My sister is one of the most gentle and caring individuals that I know, and inspires me to be a great mum like she is. 

Finally, my own daughter does things every day that inspire me with how clever she is, how funny she is and her strength and determination of character which shine through. I am extremely fortunate to have these three amazing women in my life.

In terms of female teachers who inspired me, I always remember Dr Gillis who took me for biology lessons, as I was fascinated by female scientists and she always made lessons fun and interesting, with the right balance of discipline and humour. Mrs Clough was a real forward thinker when she joined the Dame Allan’s team to teach sport and dance. I was a dancer myself and until that stage we had never had the opportunity to participate in dance at school, so this was a hugely positive step and she was instrumental in getting the first fashion show for the school off the ground, which I enjoyed.

How has your schooling at Dame Allan’s influenced your career choices?

I think the additional opportunities provided by a private education should not be underestimated. The teachers provide an incredibly nurturing environment for you. I joined Dame Allan’s as a child aged 11, and between the hugely positive influence of my home life and my school life, I left as an 18 year old young woman ready to step foot into the wider world wanting to make a difference. That quiet confidence and determination to succeed were values that the school helped instil within me.

Have you experienced any barriers in the workplace due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?

When I started working in the City in 1998, the world was a very different place. The world of law was very male dominated, and all five of the seats I had during my training contract were with men. However I also had several male partners who were very supportive of my career, and gave me fantastic work opportunities to get involved in some fascinating legal cases. 

Being a woman from the north-east of England in the pressurised and high performing City environment was not easy in those early years - I felt like I had to work really hard to prove myself. There were also very few women partners who had a family, and those who did probably had sacrificed more back then as working from home and flexible hours were almost unheard of. 

At that time, children were very much viewed as a barrier to progression in your career. Sadly many women in previous generations dropped off the career ladder by choice as companies were not helpful in supporting them with flexibility for that short period of time that they really needed it – thankfully that has now changed in most companies, and helped by the Covid lockdowns. So I was fortunate to be offered more flexibility when I had a family, which was essential as I had three children under 4 at one stage!

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

My mum always said that I should work hard and focus on what I could control, and not to keep comparing myself to others – just to focus on being the very best that I could be and the rest would hopefully follow. I have always valued that advice and tried very hard throughout my career not to compare myself to others, to focus on helping people around me with their careers, to be supportive to people and to hopefully gain recognition as a result of a positive attitude, rather than trying to bring others down to make yourself feel better or look good in front of others.

If you could invite three inspirational women (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be?

First of all I would say the Queen. I have huge admiration for her and everything she achieved in her life for the greatness of our country. I would like to ask her about the most memorable parts of her life and what were some of her happiest times. She was renowned for being extremely witty, and I would hope to have the pleasure of hearing some of that wit. She was of course unusual in her day for holding down one of the most powerful jobs in the world whilst raising four children – she was such a great role model in so many different ways.

Secondly, I lost a very dear friend to breast cancer a couple of years ago and I would give anything to see her again and to spend time with her. She was an incredibly inspirational woman to me for all sorts of reasons, and I would cherish the time to be together again, as we do not fully appreciate living in the moment as much as we should.

Finally, I would love to invite my nan to talk to her in detail about her early life. Her mother died at 34, and my nan brought up a family of nine children by herself, as she wanted to keep the family together. She then had my mum in 1940 at the start of the war, and she spent many years not knowing if my grandad was still alive until he returned in 1945, and that was the first time he actually met my mum. She then sadly lost my grandad aged 59. I would give anything just to see her again, give her the biggest hug and ask her all the questions about our family that I never did. She never moaned and always had such a positive and stoic attitude. Now that I appreciate how much hardship she suffered, she is incredibly inspirational to me as I admire how she always just on with things and always did everything with a smile and lots of love to all of us around her.

What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?

Firstly, never lose the value of hard work – these days I worry that people sometimes want the success and rewards without the hard work and years of effort that usually come with it. 

Secondly, be kind. Be the sort of positive person that people really want to work with and be around.

And finally do every single thing to the best of your ability. Don’t cut corners and don’t do a half job. Make sure you excel in every single thing that you do, those above you in your career will want you as part of their team, and those younger than you will want to work with you. Simple!

 

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