04 April 2018

Six minutes with Riana Steyn

This article was originally published by the Law Society of New South Wales in the Law Society Journal - Issue 43, April 2018

Riana Steyn held senior executive management roles in South Africa and Australia for PwC, Investec Private Bank and Kemp Strang Lawyers before joining Bartier Perry as CEO in December. Steyn holds a BA (Hons) degree in languages and a Master of Business Leadership (MBL) and says the business of law has always interested her. She moved here from South Africa 11 years ago when her husband was transferred. By JANE SOUTHWARD

When you started as CEO of Bartier Perry, the press release said the firm’s board had agreed “without hesitation” for you to work flexible hours. Can you explain?
Working hours in my view are academic – you do what you need to do to deliver quality and timely outcomes. The technology at Bartier Perry is a great enabler for this kind of mobility. 

My official office hours are from 8am to 4pm daily. My husband and I both hold demanding roles and his requires frequent overseas travel. We have two young, busy boys and they are our priority. The challenge is to balance our professional and personal lives – flexible working goes a long way in achieving this.

What’s the best way for people to request flexible working arrangements? And the worst?
The worst way to request flexible working is for it to be one-sided, such as a sole consideration of your needs and desires without a well considered plan as to how the impact on your team, clients and the business can be reduced or managed. Being inflexible and unwilling to reach a middleground will be detrimental to your request. It needs to be a win-win.

Your firm has a strong connection to young law students at Western Sydney University and offers scholarships. What’s the value of this to your team?
Our involvement with the scholarship program illustrates our culture beautifully. Not only are we partnering with a valued client, we are also assisting young people who deserve additional support on their professional journey. This is pretty special. We have been fortunate that the majority of these talented scholars have joined our team and are making valuable contributions to us and our clients.

Few law firms have women CEOs. Can you explain this?
Gender diversity at senior levels remains a challenge. This is not limited to the legal industry. It follows that when CEO positions become available the majority of candidates will be male. This becomes the “easy” choice.

It is imperative for all businesses to do more to develop talented females to ensure we have a larger talent  pool to choose from, and more diverse thinking at the leadership table. We need to look at our processes, systems and symbols – are these assisting or hindering us in improving our ability to attract, retain and develop diverse candidates.

Mentors are also key, and I’ve been fortunate to have Sally Herman, a very experienced business woman, as my coach and mentor. Sally is a director of the Suncorp Group, and holds various other directorships.