I CHOOSE – Celebrating women’s month with Nicola Sharpe-Phiri
As stoic and stately as Lady Justice, Nicola stands among her peers as a symbol of what women can be if they support, nurture and inspire one another. Read her heartwarming story below.
Giraffe Creatives: Tell us your name and your profession
Nicola Ann Sharpe Phiri: My name is Nicola Ann Sharpe-Phiri and I am a Judge of the High Court. I’ve been in the Judiciary for 10 years and before that I practiced law for 19 years.
Describe yourself in 3 words
Assertive, principled, structured
Our women’s day theme is ‘I choose’, as a woman who is pioneering in your field, what does being able to choose your vocation and thrive in it mean to you?
The ability to freely choose all areas of life, not just our profession is very important. It represents equality, justice, and personal fulfillment. Despite this, freedom of choice is often downplayed and disregarded.
Why is celebrating Women’s day important to you?
We know there is strength in women coming together. We must rise up, acknowledge and celebrate the efforts and achievements of all women. In the words of Maya Angelou ‘Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women!”.
What inspired you to choose your career?
I would say that the two people who influenced my life were my mother and my grandmother, both exceptionally hardworking women, who inspired me to do better.
My grandmother had no formal education or formal employment. She was widowed and left with 6 young children. Despite her adversity, she worked hard doing her business, building, gardening, sewing, knitting or fixing. From all this, she managed to raise her children plus 6 grandchildren (including me).
My mother grew up in this family with little means. Before independence, there were no secondary schools in Ndola for mixed-race children. She had to leave her family at a young age, and live in a Government hostel to attend a school in Lusaka. She did not receive tertiary education yet due to her diligence and hard work went on to manage an international accounting firm for well over 15 years. Growing up seeing both my grandmother and my mother working so hard to provide and give us a better life, inspired and motivated me to become who I am today.
What is most fulfilling about your career?
My legal career has been rewarding both professionally and intellectually. Some of my memorable achievements have been training and mentoring numerous law students every year, many of whom were women and have been very successful in their careers. Some of my former students are now Magistrates, Judges, State Counsel, in-house Counsel, and Senior Lawyers running their own practices in Zambia and abroad.
What challenges do you face as a woman in your industry and how do you overcome them?
One of my biggest challenges was starting up my own private practice. The most difficult part was raising the start-up capital required for furniture, books, computer, rent, etc. I did not have access to loans or mortgages but I was fortunate to have some family support. I was only 26 years old at the time and it was not easy trying to build a reputation and gain clients. It was also intimidating practicing as a young female lawyer, in a male-dominated field amongst the senior male lawyers. I had to work extra hard and be efficient and accessible in order to gain the confidence and trust of the clients.
By remaining consistent, objective, and unemotional in an emotive environment, I was able to overcome a number of challenges that I encountered. Also being honest and having the confidence to give clients advice that I believed was in their interests, whether they wanted to hear it or not, helped build my reputation.
How can women better enable and support each other?
Genuinely being there for each other and embracing our strengths and abilities as women.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Believe in yourself. Travel and explore.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I am a keen cyclist.