When Claire Bowler began working in insurance law in the City, she witnessed a world sorely lacking in female role models and rife with unfair gender bias. She recounts her successes and considers how times are changing.

Claire Bowler, DWF partner and head of international claims team

  • Made DWF partner at age 31 and equity partner at 34
  • One of two founding partners of DWF’s London office in 2008
  • Elected to DWF’s strategic board in 2016
  • Won the insurance award at the Women in the City awards
  • Mother of three children under five

Claire Bowler DWF

“I had always loved the cut and thrust of the City,” says Claire Bowler, partner and head of law firm DWF’s international claims team.

Bowler, who hails from the North East, is enjoying a career that many men and women would be envious of.

She has worked in several City law firms.

By 31 she had made partner at DWF, and by 34 she was an equity partner.

In 2008, she was one of two founders who headed to the City to open DWF’s London office.

Not content to rest on her laurels after the successful launch, Bowler now sits on DWF’s strategic board.

This would be an achievement for anyone, but the weight of it is even greater on discovery that she chose to stand and was elected to the position while 6 months pregnant with her third child.

“In reality, my own insecurities of my background and gender probably did make me work twice as hard as some of my peers over the years in a quest to prove myself.

It was not an easy decision to make, Bowler admits, and she nearly did not throw her hat into the ring.

“I worried about what people would think or if they would somehow view me as less committed to any board duties with a young baby in tow,” Bowler confesses.

It was a cathartic experience when she was chosen by peers to serve on the board, along with another female colleague and one male colleague.

“When I decided to stand and then subsequently got elected I felt overwhelmingly grateful to my fellow partners for believing in me and for not exercising any unconscious bias that they traditionally might have had, but also very proud of that moment for both my firm and for how much the world has changed for the better since I started out in the City in the late 1990s,” she continues.

Bowler worries that women are being held back by their own insecurities, as she almost was in this case.

Starting in the City

The landscape has changed somewhat since Bowler began working in London in the 1990s.

At the time, women at the top were a very small minority.

“Those women who did make it to the top were very much a tiny minority, and I suspect had to make enormous sacrifices and give up any sort of work/life balance, or having a family in many cases, to achieve it.”

“Women were definitely viewed in a lesser way than their male counterparts,” she says.

She remembers being in meetings as a trainee and seeing women talked over and put down, or men discussing their looks rather than considering their abilities.

Bowler cannot recall having any female figures to look up to.

Every partner she worked for or trainee seat was male.

“In reality, my own insecurities of my background and gender probably did make me work twice as hard as some of my peers over the years in a quest to prove myself.”

Despite obstacles, Bowler credits some of her success to trying to never view herself differently.

As she puts it: “I just happen to be a woman.”

“I do think times are changing, but unfortunately not across all law firms or insurance companies at the same pace.”

Now, 20 years later, firms are thinking more about gender inclusion and diversity.

It is pleasing to see this, Bowler says, but she questions whether all organisations live by their policies or see this as a “tick box exercise”.

“I do think times are changing, but unfortunately not across all law firms or insurance companies at the same pace,” says Bowler.

Today’s outlook

Recent gender pay gap figures show that many women are still not thriving in the workplace, particularly in the financial services sector.

The gender pay gap for this sector was 26.2%, while DWF itself reported a 23.7% pay gap.

It is widely accepted that women may struggle in an inflexible workplace, especially when it comes to starting and raising a family.

“Women should not be held back by their own insecurities.”

A major problem is that men and women are restricted by “unhelpful” gender stereotypes, Bowler laments.

For example, she says, independent research has shown that women take on 74% of childcare on average.

Meanwhile, a new government report called ‘Fathers and the Workplace’ has recommended that fathers should be encouraged to take a more equal share in raising a child.

Key challenges for women in the workplace

  • Senior management not prioritising gender diversity
  • Unconscious bias
  • Stereotyping
  • Lack of role models

Bowler herself is a rare exception to the rule of thumb. 

With three children aged under five, she juggles family life and work.

She says that agile working has been critical to her success, as family is extremely important to her.

To keep building her career at the same time as having three young children, she has worked hard to provide the same level of commitment to the firm as always and has continued to aim high.

Looking forward

Today at DWF, Bowler says, the quality of female talent she is surrounded by is better than ever before.

In Bowler’s eyes, diversity, joint working and team effort have been critical to the firm’s success.

“We have a lot more to do to reach true gender equality, but we must also appreciate how far we have come in the last 20 years and how important it is to give the next generation even better and more equal opportunities at every stage.”

“I have personally never really experienced the feeling of a ‘glass ceiling’, but maybe I just never looked up to find it.”

Research shows that FTSE100 companies perform better when 20% of the board are women, says Bowler.

She appears an enthusiastic proponent of diversity at all levels.

Bowler seems to strongly believe that success is what you make of it, and a can-do attitude is key:

“I firmly believe that everyone can influence their own career if we are willing to put in the work, grasp every opportunity we can, be proactive in seeking out those opportunities in the first place and to always, always go that extra mile, whatever your gender, race or personal background.

“I have personally never really experienced the feeling of a ‘glass ceiling’, but maybe I just never looked up to find it.”

As men and women battle together to adapt workplace culture and fix the gender pay gap, Bowler has stepped up to become the role model she never had and a force for change for a new generation of working women in the City.