Marcela Hughes, Partner, Hughes & Hughes
How long have you been working for your current company?
26 years (what probably seems like a lifetime for the younger generations!)
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
When I was at school I was sent to the Principals office not for misbehaving but for “arguing in defence of my classmates”; I guess it must have started then. Justice has been a concern for me ever since I can remember. Despite all this, before beginning law school I was hesitant because I felt it was a tough career for women since I thought that a lot of time was to be devoted to be a good professional. My father is a lawyer and it amazed me how hard he worked always, but at the same time, I realized he enjoyed a lot what he did. Once I made my decision, it just went naturally.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Probably the long standing and excellent relationship with clients and the fact that they value the “extra mile” I put into my work. This reflects the enjoyment and passion I feel in what I am doing and it is good to know they value this. Also, the excellent working environment in my team, and how I see they share the same values, culture and spirit of embracing the legal profession and career as me.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
To fit into my schedule all the things I want to know about and do. I have a natural and constant curiosity for learning and doing new things and for reinventing things. I need to be motivated.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I have not been a great example in this respect. I mean, not strictly separating work time and personal time. I have several times tried to separate both “lives”, unsuccessfully, which has proved to be a little frustrating. This has not made me happy, but my husband has helped me not to worry about this; in his view; which is tremendously important to me, I have been successful and efficient this way, and so, why, strive to change it?
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I did not have a role model and I tend not to like role models; I prefer to see into each person’s personality, strengths and weaknesses, since I believe that people are so richly unique that it is more valuable to try and identify each ones qualities and work on them than rather trying to follow somebody else’s. This would never cause anybody to be genuine and, I doubt that somebody who is not genuine is successful in whatever she/he does. It will show.
Having said this, I must say I always admired the energy, the effort and the enjoyment my both parents put into whatever they did. Strong ethical values and the example they naturally set regarding “you need to work hard and put an effort in what you do”; do your utmost. At the same time, the moto at The British Schools, which I attended was: “PERFICE: to do thoroughly ..”
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Different opinions, views, approaches and even more, coming from diverse cultures or genders cannot be anything else but enriching. This should be natural, ideally, and it is quite so at our firm. Unfortunately, in many workplaces planning and implementation of specific initiatives is necessary.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I was born a woman and became a lawyer, and I have always thought things come in that order. Never felt like or tried to change the order with the purpose of benefitting my career. I have worked very hard, but because that is in my nature and I was raised in the belief that we should do our utmost at all times, but not with the purpose of balancing my gender position. However, being so passion driven has undoubtedly had to do with success in my career. But it is more in my character than in a gender difference. However, given that I am a woman it probably helps being like this. We need to cope and handle many diverse issues at the same time and we are biologically able to do that while men find it difficult, if not impossible, to do more than one thing at a time. I don´t know which is better, but it definitely works like this.
If I try to find advantages/disadvantages I would need to tell that during the first international conferences I attended, I found it quite tough to network. It is easy for a man to come up to other guys and say “hey, let´s go for a beer”. I just could not do that. Even more, no matter how nice and polite guys I knew were to me, at some stage I delicately said good night or just disappeared. On the other hand, since we were few ladies -and after they realized I was not a spouse accompanying my husband to a reception- they always seemed to remember who I was, probably because we were so few. Meanwhile, I struggled to remember so many faces and names of so many men and not get confused.
When I was very young -and a female- sometimes clients would want to check opinions with my seniors. But that was only during a very short while and it was rather funny to me.
I definitively feel I am at disadvantage when I am packing. I have been travelling for years and I still have not managed to carry with me just a few things; despite I am a very good “luggage organizer” I still take a lot of “just in case” stuff. I “envy” men who travel with a suit, a few shirts and two ties. It is so easy!
However, to honour the truth, I have never felt at a disadvantage when negotiating a deal, which is what I like best. Looking into this topic at this stage, I have had fun.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The number of women occupying higher positions, despite this continues to be very low in Latin America. On another aspect, they feel more at liberty to ask for flexible hours and family time. Men used to see this more naturally, but women were reluctant or felt guilty about it.