A CULTURAL CHANGE THAT WILL BENEFIT THE WHOLE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION

The Women Lawyer’s Association of NSW has released its priorities for 2019 directed to achieving equality in the profession.

Despite the predominance of women entering the profession there continues to be significant underrepresentation of women in the most senior roles as partners, in leadership roles, at the Bar and in the judiciary.  The gender wage gap in the legal profession is one of the largest in Australia, reported to be 29.7% by WGEA in 2017 compared to an all industries gap of 22.4%.

Larissa Andelman, President of WLA NSW said: Unless there is a concerted effort to examine and change the culture in law firms, women will continue to be unable to fully participate.

Unless there is leadership from the top we are not going to see the necessary cultural change, but the changes can’t be forced and there needs to be involvement of staff in developing the strategies to effect the cultural change required.

 Men need to be supported to access parental leave and flexible work arrangements as caring is everybody’s responsibility. We know anecdotally that many men would like to access paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements but feel that if they do, the culture at work would work against their future progression and promotion.

 Keeping remuneration secret is a significant contributor to the large wage gap for women but it also has broader implications for work place culture in regard to trust, respect and very importantly collegiality and a sense of inclusiveness.

 WLANSW recently conducted a survey of women in the legal profession. Over 70% of the respondents said that they have experienced sexual harassment in the legal profession. We know the consequences of this conduct impacts not only on the individual woman, but also has significant cost implications for law firms and economy and our society more broadly. Through the #MeToo disclosures, we have been able to gather a little more evidence about the long term health consequences of sexual harassment and discrimination which is often a pernicious form of psychological exclusion which is difficult to prove and goes unpunished. We need to change the conversation from men being seen as possible perpetrators to being active by-standers and adopt the words of Chief of the Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison in 2013 “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

 Unless we deal with the structural and cultural issues, at best we might see some small and inconsistent trickle down effects. This is not good enough.

 There are 5 key measures WLA NSW will be advocating on in 2019:

  1.  Law firm partnership and leadership targets
    Firms should set targets for admission to partnership and promotion into leadership roles, based on a 40/40/20 model, with 40% of any new admissions/promotions in any year being male, 40% female, and the remaining 20% varying depending on the candidate pool.  If firms are unable to meet this in any one year, (say due to a merger with another firm) then a 3 year rolling average should be adopted.
  1. Flexible work and parental leave for all lawyers
    Firms should adopt targets for men taking up parental leave and flexible work arrangements and develop strategies to actively encourage all employees and partners to share caring responsibilities.
  1. Equitable briefing policy across the profession
    All briefing entities and barristers need to adopt the Law Council’s Equitable Briefing Policy which will lead to fairer briefing practices being adopted.
  1. Sexual harassment and discrimination: proactive measures for structural and cultural change
    Sexual harassment and discrimination as an issue that effects the whole firm. The adoption of pro-active measures that remove the pressure on victims to report is vital. Regulators should have a more prominent role in education, complaint making and enforcement of unlawful conduct.
  1. Gender pay gap: proactive measures to close the gap
    All legal firms should undertake an annual gender pay analysis of employees and partners and take concrete steps to address any gaps found. The results of that analysis should be reported to the board and partnership group, with progress tracked, and at a minimum, any like-for-like gaps eliminated, and analysis taken to understand the causes of those gaps developing. Firms should publicly disclose their remuneration in quartile bands, like the UK model for pay disclosure requires.

WLANSW will continue its work in cultural diversity initiatives and the Welcome to Law project which engages with junior lawyers entering the profession.

We look forward to working with our partners in the legal profession to see these significant changes take effect. We call on all of the organisations working in the legal profession to take active steps to promote diversity and inclusion as a fundamentally important issue facing the legal profession in 2019.

 BACKGROUND

The Women Lawyer’s Association of NSW is the peak professional body representing women lawyers in NSW. We have been committed to improving the status and working conditions of women lawyers since 1952. Today we have a diverse membership of 9000 ranging from female pioneers of the legal profession, senior legal leaders and the emerging next generation.

In 2012, Women Lawyers Association New South Wales (WLANSW) published its first comparison of law firms based on publicly available data.  At that time, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) had not been formed, and the information that was available was patchy and incomplete. 6 years on we have access to much more WGEA data, and sadly the results show that progress for women in law firms is painfully slow.

2018 report: https://womenlawyersnsw.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WLANSW-2018-Law-Firm-Comparison-Project-Report-Final.pdf

The legal profession has seen increasing feminisation, with women now comprising just over fifty percent of the solicitors in practice, yet there is still a lack of balance and representation at the top of law firms, in those who lead them, and those who own them.

CONTACT DETAILS

Larissa Andelman 0408 424 687 andelman@153phillip.com.au

Kathryn McKenzie Executive Officer 0466 157 087 executive@womenlawyersnsw.org.au

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