Celebrating Black History Month – Jane Southall

Name: Jane Southall

Occupation: Employment Law Specialist & Barrister

Ethnic Background: British Black Caribbean

Family Origin: Jamaica

Originally from Bradford, West Yorkshire, Jane Southall is now one of Manchester’s most prominent employment law specialists. She has been specialising in her chosen field of law for over 14 years since being called to the Bar at the prestigious Grays Inn in 2009 under her maiden name of Jane Herman. Jane has been married for 8 years to husband David and is a proud mother to her adorable 4 year old daughter, Darcy. As the Managing Director of her own employment law consultancy, Searchlight Employment Law Solutions, Jane splits her time between providing consultancy for a variety of businesses and spending quality time with her family.

In what generation did your family come to the UK?

My family arrived to the United Kingdom in the 1960’s.

What inspired you to pursue your chosen career?

I was driven towards employment law as I found the equality legislation fascinating. It’s amazing to think that we have only had the sex discrimination act since 1975 and the Race Relations Act since 1965 (now the Equality Act 2010) which is around the time when both sets of my grandparents migrated to the United Kingdom from Jamaica with their young families, which must have been a particularly challenging time for them. I enjoyed employment law as a volunteer undergraduate and chose to specialise after graduating with my law degree. It’s a field which seldom stays static and is forever changing. A typical day consists of advising and supporting clients who run their own businesses, drafting terms and conditions of employment, employment tribunal pleadings, chairing internal employment meetings such as inductions, investigations and grievances to name a few.   My clients consist of business owners, solicitors, doctors, and dentists. I advise on a whole range of issues from breach of contract claims to settlement agreements, equality issues to redundancy reorganisation and TUPE.

Do you feel there is a proportionate representation of minorities within your chosen field? If not, what do you think the government or society could/should be doing to encourage more people of minority backgrounds to pursue similar careers?

Overall I still feel that black and ethnic minorities (particularly the Caribbean community) are underrepresented in the legal profession. I fear their prospects of entering the profession are more difficult now than ever given the increased cost to university education and the difficulty graduates experience gaining employment. We need positive role models in our schools, lawyers and judges to give talks to school children, provide work experience opportunities for Caribbean school children as well as directing our children to such professions so they can make informed choices that this is an achievable qualification and career choice so children from underprivileged backgrounds can be a part of this sector.

Celebrating Black History Month - Interview with Jane Southall

Employment Law Barrister Jane Southall with daughter Darcy outside of Manchester Court Building

Are there any aspects of your family’s culture that you feel were particularly prominent or evident in your upbringing, or that you are particularly fond of?

I was lucky to know my Great Grannie and both sets of Grannies from my parents’ side. They were a real force in their own way and it was entertaining to hear them reminisce about stories and duppies (Jamaican word for ghosts) when they were young women in Jamaica. My dad would often recall some of those stories from time to time when my brother and I were children. Growing up in a Jamaican household, although my brother and I were born in England, we were fully aware of our roots. My dad was a champion domino player and it was during visits to the social club that we’d appreciate our background and heritage. On one trip to the social club, we had a black Father Christmas which I have never forgotten and remember fondly.  As well as seeing the older generation at the social club, it was hearing them speak their gentle patois which was music to your ears and tasting their lovely rice and peas and curry goat which I enjoy to this day.

How are you currently/or do you plan to preserve an awareness of their background and heritage in your children & future generations? Is this something that you consider important?

I am aware that some of my aunties have retained a record of my Great Grannie’s experience and equally of my grannie who has now passed on. I have no immediate plans for creating a family tree or otherwise. Our family history is well documented photographically and I’m happy with that. Maybe this will change as my daughter gets older.

Who would you consider to be the most iconic, pivotal or inspirational figure in black history & why?

Doctor Martin Luther King & Professor Maya Angelou.

Martin Luther King was a great orator and someone who stood up for what he believed in.

Maya Angelou, my mother read her books which were then passed on to me. She was inspirational as she was writing about her own personal difficult experiences but notwithstanding she overcame them. Furthermore, there was no attempt on the school curriculum to address black history at an early stage, so this was a wonderful insight at an early age.

Were you educated in black history growing up? Do you think, in light of and celebration of the UK’s diverse population that black history should be taught in schools?

This is an interesting question as I gave my answer above without reading this question, but my answer has to be that I was not educated in black history at school when growing up. My education in black history was channeled through literature such as Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King. I do think that it is important that black history is taught on the curriculum at an early stage beginning with slavery right through to the civil rights movement.

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