Cassandra Heilbronn was the President Women Lawyer’s Association of Queensland and is a Senior Associate Insurance and Corporate Risk at MinterEllison says her Plan B was to be a mechanic. Hailing from regional Bundaberg, Cassandra’s father taught her to weld and fix cars. Cassandra dreamed of being a lawyer from the age of 8, and confesses she used to volunteer at the local library to get access to the latest novels.
As someone who grew up in a low socio-economic area, she moved to Brisbane at age 17 on her own and worked determinedly to become a lawyer. She is a dedicated sports enthusiast and her specialist area of expertise is sports law. She played hockey, touch football, softball, soccer and also was a surfer and rower. Cassandra is active in giving back within the community as a under 8’s soccer coach, and previous Non-Executive Director of Squash Australia.
She was named as the 2016 Women’s Agenda Emerging Leader in the Legal Sector and named in 2017 Who’s Who List of Australian Women. She is also active on social media on Twitter as #LifeofaLawyer and Blogspot. Cassandra mentors junior lawyers and is widely known as a passionate and active advocate for gender equality.
What life events have shaped your advocacy for gender equality?
That would be a past relationship. Looking back I realise that as I was being set-up for a life away from the law once ‘mummy-days’ came, I was subconsciously pushing against all of that and trying to find a way to make a career and home life work. After that relationship ended it was rather fortuitous that I became involved in WLAQ, and I would not change any of it.
In your second and final term as President of the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland, what would you like your legacy to be to WLAQ?
This is a hard one. From my perspective, I would like to look back in years to come and know that I have done all I can to make a difference. I want to connect the legal profession, I want to support the females looking to progress to senior positions and I want junior lawyers to know that this is a great career option. From an outside perspective, I would love it if people said in 10 years’ time that 2016-2017 was when it all changed for women in the law; that it was a time we made our mark in the legal profession and stepped up to meet our objectives.
What are the top 2 things you would recommend all law firms do to achieve gender equality in the legal profession?
A firm wide pay review and I would stress that it does not sound as cumbersome as they think. Government agencies in Queensland have been known to undertake this review, put all pays on hold for one year and address any pay inequality issues. If they can do it, firms can do it.
The second would be to put into practice the policies. One issue that I hear about at least on a weekly basis is practice not living up to the written policy expectations, whether it be partners being unaware of the firm’s position on flexible work or maternity leave, or an individual partner disagreeing with what the policy says. I said to Diverse City Careers ahead of IWD2017 that firms cannot just rely on the awards for gender equality. What matters most is what their employees are saying about their diverse practices.
You are a strong proponent of women in sport. How do you think sport can play a role in advancing gender equality?
My view is that female participation in sport results in career success. Those who play sport at a younger age learn that you have to be disciplined to achieve. Often there is a balance of school work and training as well as socialising in teenage years. This is setting up young women perfectly for corporate life. With this also comes greater exposure to team related activities, time management, negotiation skills and overall general health. Statistics show that men and women in CEO and top management positions were often players of sport in their younger days.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Learning how to stop. I don’t know how and it is not necessarily a good thing. I am fortunate to be working with an amazing Coach (Ellie Rentoul). And the senior women around me are always offering gratuitous advice, which I very much accept and am grateful for. I justify it doing what I do by saying, “well I am single and have no kids. That may not always be the case, so I want to do as much as I can now”.
What are you most proud of?
That I did it. I grew up in Bundaberg and no one from my extended family had finished high school, let alone university. While many supported my efforts to move to Brisbane at 17 on my own and try and achieve my goal of being a lawyer, they were also doubtful that I would be able to handle it. It’s not a matter of ‘I told you so’. It is about me looking back and showing that your childhood does not dictate your future.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Take the time to experience life. I wish I had not been in such a rush to get to where I am. By that I mean that I wish I had spent more time just enjoying university and being a student. I would have participated more in student activities and formed more relationships with my peers.