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Not just jobs for the boys

Briefs

Cite as: December 2015 89 (12) LIJ, p.14

Fitting a table thumping stereotype is not something women lawyers should feel the need to do in leadership roles.

The table-thumping stereotype was dismissed by panellists at the recent Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) discussion, “Not just jobs for the boys”.

The discussion focused on the under-representation of women in senior positions and traditionally male-dominated areas of practice.

Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou facilitated the discussion between commercial and public law barrister Zoe Maud, criminal barrister Ruth Shann and CEO of the Royal Commission into Family Violence Mary Polis.

It was agreed that there needs to be a broader description of what good leadership looks like with an emphasis on organisation, patience and being a good advocate, rather than feeling obliged to fit a table thumping stereotype.

Each of the panellists spoke about successes and obstacles they had experienced working in their chosen fields.

Ms Shann said clients still expected their barrister to look like Horace Rumpole, the ageing London barrister created by John Mortimer and played by the late Leo McKern.

“In criminal defence there is an issue with clients having the expectation that Rumpole of the Bailey will represent them in court and this is an expectation that needs to be pushed and challenged. There is an expectation of what a barrister looks like and it’s not a young woman,” Ms Shann said.

Ms Polis noted that government departments such as treasury, innovation and infrastructure have around half the numbers of women in executive officer positions as others in the public sector, highlighting that there are still many areas perceived as male-dominated.

There are ways to counteract the Rumpole factor, however. Associate Justice Ierodiaconou highlighted the importance of senior men and women supporting women through advocating, equal opportunity briefing practices, mentoring and the Champions of Change program.

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