Rachel Di Clemente

Chief Executive Officer at Hudgell Solicitors

The thoughts and perspectives from Rachel Di Clemente, Chief Executive Officer at Hudgell Solicitors

March 4, 2022
Mar 8, 2022
International Women's Day
Introduction and Biography

Rachel started her career at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds in 1998, she decided to pursue qualification as a Solicitor, returning to college whilst working full time.
Rachel undertook a part-time study training contract alongside work and was fortunate enough to be promoted to the role of Associate whilst still a trainee at Irwin Mitchell.  

Rachel then dedicated many years to looking after catastrophically injured clients before joining Minster Law, where she began her leadership journey, initially as Team Manager of Serious Injury before being promoted to Head of Complex Claims and then Legal Services Director also sitting on the Board of Directors.

Rachel joined Hudgell Solicitors as chief executive, just after the UK had been placed into lockdown due to the global pandemic. Since joining she has led the firm through an ambitious programme of business transformation and growth, over a period in which the firm has won national acclaim from a series of landmark legal achievements. Rachel still takes a hands-on role in key legal actions, including high-profile supporting with the Post Office Horizon Scandal and by leading legal support for more than 100 people injured in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.

It's clear to see from Rachel’s biography why she is one of the regions inspirational female leaders and it’s been a pleasure working with her recently.

What is your leadership style? How have you developed it during your career?

I never set out to be a business leader, this just happened, and I realised later. I have always had a good work ethic inherited from my father – I just worked hard and always focused on improving things forth business and my colleagues; this led to me getting more and more responsibility and before I knew it I was responsible for managing a couple of hundred people. I’d had no real formal training, but I think you constantly learn about leadership as you go on.

Much of that comes from the lessons you learn in life generally alongside remembering the leadership approaches that have inspired you in your career and learning to never repeat the ones that have uninspired you!

My leadership approach is very much based upon being open and honest. I believe it is my job to cultivate a shared passion to create opportunities for our people and our clients.

I remember once being told that I would never progress beyond middle management because I was too close the people that worked for me; but I never thought that people worked ‘for’ me; in my mind they worked with me. Despite this advice, I decided I liked working ‘with’ people and if that meant I would stay at middle management, then that’s where I wanted to be.

I believe that to work as a team, people need to know you as a person; what motivates you; what scares you; what you care about. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing your own vulnerability at times, as again I think that allows people to see the real person, and to trust in you.
I’m very much a leader who puts their trust in people.  I believe that you need to find a purpose and a role for the people you work with, give them responsibility and ownership, and help them become the best they can.

My approach is to try and make everybody feel they are somebody within an organisation.

Have you experienced any barriers to your growth as a female leader?

Asa young working mum, the barriers were more practical.  Trying to find childcare that could cover the hours required was a challenge. It still amazes me that maternity leave only pays 90% for a mere 6 weeks; very few people can afford to live on statutory maternity pay thereafter and are forced to return to work at a very early stage. I went back to work within a few weeks of having both of my children. I’m not sure I would have ever chosen to take extended leave but, in reality I never had the choice. I needed to go back to work to pay my bills.

I have always found it difficult to attend my children’s school events and parents’ evenings because they have been held at times during the working day and in my younger years I would find myself apologising for being at work when I should have been challenging why they were scheduled during the working day!

I don’t believe I would have been able to progress to CEO if I had had my children later in life. A senior leadership role means that you are responsible for hundreds of families, not just your own. I think it must be incredibly hard to fulfil the demands of a senior role alongside being a parent to young children.

We are celebrating International Women’s Day today. What to you think is causing a lack of diversity in the top of leadership?

I think society has to drive diversity. More needs to be done to prevent women from feeling they have to make a choice between careers and being a mother. Times are changing and many parents now wish to share childcare responsibilities.

Society needs to embrace co-parenting before women stand a chance of being viewed equally when it comes to working in leadership roles. Currently we are still seen as the less reliable sex – it’s the woman that must take a step back if the children need more support.

Whilst I was fortunate that my children were already in school by the time my career took off, I do wonder if I would have been able to manage if I had already been in a senior leadership role at the time; I’m afraid to say, probably not.

I think barriers still exist within wider society with regards to supporting successful, ambitious, women leaders.

I have seen a big shift in recent times, but I do still feel there is a section of society which still looks at a woman who is entirely committed to her job, especially when they are a mother, and questions why they are doing what they do and what motivates them.

Women with careers can still feel guilty dropping their children off at nursery when they are very young, but why should that be the case?

I’ve always had a job where I’ve been out of the house before 6am and not back home until after 6pm, and I’ve been questioned by more women than men as to why I choose to do that.

Certainly my children, and their friends, are of the view that successful, career-minded women are great role models, so perhaps the next generation will see career paths opened up for women even more.

What do you love most about your job?

I have always loved work and being part of a group of people trying to achieve something together. I am very results driven (in my very first job in card shop I made all my friends come and buy things to get the takings up!), and I am also very much a people person. I love to work with people and help find their strengths, and I take great pride in making a difference for my colleagues, my clients and of course the business as well.
Throughout my career I have also been fortunate to support clients who have been seriously injured has been incredibly rewarding. We make a hugely positive difference to people who have suffered difficult times in their lives; I have stayed in touch with many former clients and still chat with them many years on-. you don’t stop caring for the people you support, just because their legal case comes to an end.

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