The Sky Is the Limit: A Culture of Women in Leadership
We hear from the newly appointed General Counsel at Sky, Claire Canning, and learn about Sky's culture driving 'Women into Leadership' programme.
In April this year, global media giant Sky named Claire Canning, a former Olswang Partner, as its new General Counsel for UK and Ireland. For Claire, this development has presented a variety of new and exciting opportunities, challenges and fresh perspective.
Lawyer Monthly hears from Claire Canning on her day to day role and on the key legal elements behind commercial enterprises such as Sky. We also hear more about Sky’s culture driving ‘Women into Leadership’ programme.
Build a network of people who inspire and motivate you.
What’s the key, for you, behind securing ground breaking partnerships? Any top tips you would share with aspiring lawyers?
From my experience, the key to securing ground-breaking partnerships, like Sky’s partnership with Netflix or our retail deal with BT on NOW TV, is collaboration. Collaboration is a key part of Sky’s success both externally with our partners and internally with our colleagues. What makes our team so successful is that they recognise the importance of building relationships and getting closer to the business. Having a deep understanding of the business enables us to add value in a highly strategic, commercially focused manner. My advice to aspiring lawyers is don’t just get stuck in your legal lane, connect with people right across your organisation and ensure you understand the bigger picture of where you work.
What would be your top three tips for women aiming to conquer leadership?
Build a network of people who inspire and motivate you. The more diverse that network the better, and it’s helpful to get perspectives and insights from inside and outside of your organisation. Use this network to discuss challenges and exchange ideas for overcoming them. You will not be the only one struggling with issues such as how to balance work and home better or how to find your voice in a room full of people who are more senior than you. At Sky, we have built a ‘Women into Leadership’ programme to help more junior women connect with each other and build a stronger pathway through the organisation.
Make sure people know what you stand for and that you are passionate about that.
Stretch yourself. Many women stay in their comfort zones, possibly for fear that challenging themselves will compromise the time they are able to spend with their children or that they aren’t good enough to make a success of a new role. Self-doubt will hold you back. If you want your career to grow, you need to grow with it and this means getting involved in projects that take you out of your comfort zone and having more confidence in your own abilities.
Develop a brand. Make sure people know what you stand for and that you are passionate about that. Being a role model for flexible working is very important to me. I believe strongly in supporting women and men to find a balance that works for them. We have a culture at Sky that makes this possible, that’s one of the reasons we were named by The Times as one of the Top 50 Employers for Women for the last four years.
I am excited about the innovation work we are doing on the legal side to create the legal department of the future, but diversity and inclusion is what I will be championing at Sky.
Becoming GC: what are you most excited about? What change will you be advocating for?
It’s a really brilliant time to be at Sky, as we continue to connect customers to more of the content they love as part of the wider Comcast family. I am excited about the innovation work we are doing on the legal side to create the legal department of the future, but diversity and inclusion is what I will be championing at Sky. Building teams full of different people, with different perspectives and who are a truer reflection of our customer base will make us a better business.
Understand what your client needs from you.
From the moment you graduated university, what is the most important lesson you have learnt about the legal sector?
Understand what your client needs from you. As an in-house lawyer, this means understanding the problem that your business stakeholders are trying to solve and help them find a way through. Being able to communicate clearly and concisely is perhaps the number one skill you need to develop.
If you could pick a superpower to help you with you day-to-day tasks, what would you pick and why?
I would love to cut out the time I spend doing chores at home, so… being able to move things using the power of my mind. Like Eleven from Stranger Things. It would be pretty cool to do that around the house, from picking my daughter’s clothes up off the floor, to loading the dishwasher, to unpacking the grocery shopping… the possibilities are endless.
Why did you pick commercial law as your path in the legal sector?
I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to specialise in when I started out. My final seat as a trainee was in the media team at Clifford Chance. It was a hardworking, highly collaborative team, which I loved, but what really motivated me was the opportunity to work in the media sector. The late 90’s was a boom time for TV and the media law sector was growing rapidly. The chance to play a part in bringing great television entertainment and choice to our screens really excited me (and still excites me today!).
The biggest motivation in my role is the constant drive to do better both as a legal team and as a business.
What motivates you most about your role?
The biggest motivation in my role is the constant drive to do better both as a legal team and as a business. ‘Believe in Better’ is a well-known motto for Sky, but it really is true – there is a constant sense of renewal at Sky. We always look to improve and give our customers more, not just in the UK, but right across Europe, that’s probably what motivates me the most in my role – always thinking ‘how can we do this better?’.
I have been inspired by a number of different people, men and women.
Can you summarise the power of women in law in three words, from your perspective?
Inspiring. Empathetic. Flexible.
Who are your legal role models?
There has not been one single role model for me. I have been inspired by a number of different people, men and women. My first boss showed me the importance of pulling together as a team to get things done and that success is never down to one person. Being a team player has become the hallmark of my own career. My second boss was brilliant at empowering his team. It was under his guidance that my career really flourished as I was given opportunities to work on some ground-breaking deals. He also backed me to go for partnership (I was six months pregnant with my first child). Sky’s current Group GC, James Conyers, paved the way for many women in our legal team to work flexibly, at a time when it really was not that common to do so. If it had not been for him, I would not have been where I am today.