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Tackling the final frontier

Briefs

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2011 85(1/2) LIJ, p.19

Newly-appointed Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) convenor Kate Ashmor will spend 2011 encouraging law firms to display courage and leadership in better managing flexible working arrangements.

She also wants to improve the VWL’s connection with regional female lawyers and address depression in the profession.

The Victorian Transport Department commercial lawyer will push VWL initiatives, such as the Women in Government Network (WiG) and Do You Manage? report on flexible working arrangements, both launched in 2010. She also plans to celebrate the organisation’s 15th anniversary.

Ms Ashmor said securing appropriate flexible post-partum work practices that allowed for proper remuneration and career progression was the “final frontier” for women but lacking within most areas of the profession.

“There is a massive drop-off of women in firms from the child-bearing years who would benefit from part-time, job-sharing or work-from-home arrangements,” she said.

“We need courage and leadership. We have seen glimpses from some firms and signs of hope but it is time to move forward. There is an opportunity for someone to lead the way and become an employer of choice, attracting and forever retaining the best candidates.

“We are up against 150 years of history and while it will happen incrementally – through natural attrition once we start losing old school dinosaurs and baby boomers in charge of firms who pay lip service to these issues through gritted teeth – we want to see change much more quickly.

“It is about confronting that big elephant in the room which is time-based billing. I would like to see large and mid-tier firms doing a serious review of whether they should be value pricing and fixed quoting.

“And sadly there is a direct corollary between these issues and depression and mental illness.”

Ms Ashmor, a Glen Eira councillor from November 2005 until her November 2008 retirement, said something was going “horribly wrong for women” when choices about when to take a year off for maternity leave centred about whether it was better to wait until a woman was 35 and more experienced or had been made a partner.

“It is sad we have reduced having a family to cold calculations,” she said.

Ms Ashmor, who founded the VWL law student mentoring program in 2007, said the VWL anniversary provided the perfect juncture to investigate the organisation’s membership base and discover who was not being reached.

She believes not enough has been done for female practitioners in rural regions and one of the focuses this year will be reaching out to those the VWL can do more for.

She will also be pointing out that the VWL has progressed from “a pioneering frontier group of frustrated women” to focusing more on lobbying, advocacy, socialising and networking events, and opening doors for members.

For more information on VWL, WiG and the Do You Manage? report, visit www. vwl.asn.au.

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