Women in the Law UK founder scoops top diversity leadership award

Event host Nina Warhurst, category judge Sheena McDermott, winner Sally Penni, BusinessDesk.com MD Alex Turner

The founder and chair of Women in the Law UK, Sally Penni, has been named “Diversity and Inclusion Leader of the Year” at the inaugural Northern Leadership Awards. She collected her award at a ceremony held in Leeds on the evening of 28 November, having won out over a field of more than 120 nominees.

The Northern Leadership Awards, which took place for this first time this year, was organised by the respected online regional business news publisher TheBusinessDesk. Winners were decided by a panel of high-profile businesspeople and professionals from across the North of England.

The awards ceremony, which was hosted by BBC breakfast journalist Nina Warhurst, took place at the Queens Hotel in Leeds City Centre. The other shortlisted nominees for the Diversity and Inclusion Leader of the Year category in which Miss Penni triumphed were Chris Madeley of Madeley Enterprises, Suzanne Robinson of EY, Alison Treliving of Squire Patton Boggs and Sarah Tulip of Women in Leeds Digital and Software Cloud.

The award was made primarily in recognition of Miss Penni’s work spearheading the activities of Women in the Law UK, the professional development organisation she founded to promote gender diversity and women’s progression in the legal sector. The organisation, which has its roots in Manchester, has launched formal events programmes in London, Scotland, Wales, the Midlands and Yorkshire over the past year.

In addition to chairing Women in the Law UK Miss Penni is a successful barrister-at-law, practising out of Kenworthy’s Chambers, and is vice-chair of the Association of Women Barristers. Outside of the law she carries out a number of non-executive director and trustee roles, and sits on the Board of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

She lives in Manchester with her husband and three children.

Sally Penni is a sought-after public speaker, regularly being asked to present on the topic of diversity in the legal profession. Recent speaking engagements include the 2019 Women in Law Summit at Olympia in London, the largest event of its kind in Europe, and an event held by law firm Brabners to celebrate National Diversity Week.

She also speaks regularly at schools and universities around the UK, with the aim of encouraging students from non-traditional backgrounds to consider careers in the law.

The Northern Leadership Awards represented the latest in a series of awards successes for Miss Penni in 2019. Earlier in the year she triumphed in the “Woman of Influence” category of the English Women’s Awards – North and was presented with the “WIN Inspiring Women Worldwide Award” at the Manchester WINConference.

She was identified by I Love Manchester as one of the city’s 22 most influential women in a list announced to coincide with International Women’s Day earlier this year and was a finalist in the 2019 Inspiring Women Awards.

Miss Penni said, “I am incredibly proud to have won this award. It came as a complete surprise, because I was up against such a strong shortlist, so I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to say when I was called up on stage!

“I would like to thank the judges for recognising the work that I, and everyone involved in Women in the Law UK, have been doing to encourage a more diverse intake into our great profession and, equally important, to ensuring the same diversity is maintained as people progress to positions of leadership. There is still a long way to go but receiving awards like this provides us with a real boost and demonstrates that there are people out there who not only recognise the problem but also buy into the work we are doing to produce a solution.”

Women in the Law UK was founded in Manchester by Sally Penni to provide support to women at all stages of their legal careers and to address the gap in female representation in leadership roles within the profession. It has more than 700 members, many thousands of followers on LinkedIn, and operates nationwide.

Earlier this year Women in the Law UK launched a new Charter for barristers’ chambers, law firms and legal businesses that are actively trying to bridge the gender gap in the legal profession and are actively promoting employee wellbeing.

Other criteria for awarding the Charter include actively promoting the retention of female talent in the legal profession, actively promoting the progression of women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and demonstrably supporting the activities of Women in the Law UK.

Women in the Law UK’s events are held under the Chatham House Rule, enabling speakers and audience members to speak freely and learn from each-others’ experiences in a confidential environment. Previous events have covered subjects including career progression, why lawyers need to sit on boards, how to network and make it work for you, and what lawyers can learn from inspiring businesswomen.