We have frequently reported the gender diversity issue in LawFuel, with some pertinent comments from last year’s ‘Lawyer of the Year’ winner Stacey Shortall.
As female law graduate numbers continue to grow, the gap has narrowed only slightly with women comprising close to 70 per cent of law graduates but only 30 per cent of firm partners or firm directors.
NBR published a significant piece this week (“Are we there yet? Women lawyers may well ask”). The republication of Auckland lawyer Gill Gatfield’s book “Without Prejudice: Same Issue – New Cover” which followed the 1996 publication of an earlier version with a different title.
The point being made, however, is the same: Things have not changed very much for women in the law. Despite the good intentions, inequity survives in the profession, she says.
The Law Society are currently undertaking a gender diversity initiative – yes, another – to implement two-yearly measurement criteria and charter provisions to promote women in the profession, among other initiatives. See the NZLS release on the survey here. The final survey is due on October 6.
Dame Patsy’s Say
Dame Patsy Reddy, the Governor General and first woman partner of Watts & Patterson (now MinterEllisonRuddWatts) in New Zealand, has recently spoken at forums where she has used her influence and success in the law to encourage women lawyers to advance themselves, and for the profession to facilitate the process.
The fact that women felt some unconscious bias against them or that there was insufficient ability for them to advance their legal careers was something that needed urgent correction, she has said.
She said that role models were needed to challenge the status quo and permit women to rise through the legal ranks.
Big Law, Big Initiatives
The large law firms spoken to by NBR all point to significant initiatives undertaken. Russell McVeagh, for instance, has unlimited sick leave and nanny support for those caught short when work and family demands conflict.
Bell Gully, long a largely male bastion, is steadfastly moving towards increasing its women quotient with 76 per cent of senior associates now women, according to chairman Chris Gordon (right). That initiative is expected to yield results with a greater number of women partners within the next two years.
MinterEllisonRuddWatts and Simpson Grierson have both moved strongly in the overall diversity stakes with the latter being the first law firm to receive the ‘Rainbow Tick’ in respect of LGBT issues of inclusiveness and acceptance within the firm.
Chapman Tripp’s Nick Wells said the firm was doing well, but better needed to reflect the overall profile of New Zealand itself.
The Shortall Way
Stacey Shortall provided seven ways by which the tide can be turned, being –
1. Flexible working hours
2. Mandatory unconscious bias training
3. Increase the role of men in the home, as well as women
4. Partners and others to sponsor the progress of women in the firm
5. An active pro bono practice
6. Recognise diversity commitment through setting targets and providing compensation
7. Demand more ‘walk the talk’ from law firm leaders.
So law firm partners, most of whom are men, need to decide if they are going to be supportive over the arc of a women’s career and accommodate some of these factors without drawing negative conclusions. Otherwise we will continue to lose these women.
They drop out of the profession, some for short times or permanently.
These women are incredibly valuable. They will be top performers. And they can be wonderful role models. I know what it’s like to work in a law firm where there were no women partners who appeared to have a life I wanted. Younger women leave when that happens.