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A small win for female lawyers across the country

A small win for female lawyers across the country

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The legal industry has been long known as a male-dominated profession, however on 14 July 2021, for the first time, it was reported that female practitioners outnumbered their male counterparts in all states and territories within Australia.[1]

In the eyes of many this was a proud moment to demonstrate the progress of women, but it was also a reminder that more can be done to achieve gender equality in the profession.

Gender gap

Earlier this year, Australia placed 50th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, which measures gaps between women’s and men’s basic rights. Interestingly, Victoria’s demographic shift in the legal landscape only occurred in 2018, when it was first reported there was a majority of female practicing lawyers.[2]

From 2011 to 2020, ‘the growth in the number of female solicitors (67 per cent) has been far higher than that of male solicitors (26 per cent)’.[3]  Nazia Farhat, a lawyer at Professional’s Australia, reflected on her own workplace saying she is ‘fortunate to be mentored by a principal female lawyer and work in a team with a high percentage of female[s]’.

It is encouraging to see gradual change occurring in a conventionally androcentric career.

Structural inequality vs rising females

Despite these promising advancements, there is still a lack of representation of female lawyers in executive positions. 

Law Institute of Victoria Young Lawyers’ current president, Jacob McCahon, supports further growth of women stating that ‘as the broader profession, [we] have a duty to enable women to progress to also represent over 50% of the positions at the top of the profession (including judicial officers, partners, and senior counsel)’.

Many professionals concur, believing there is still a lack of women executives and a significant cultural shift is needed for gender equality to be truly achieved.[4]

Shruti Malaviya, a senior consultant (regulation and compliance) at KPMG Australia, considered the progress to date empowering, as ‘it shows gender has no impact on one’s ability’, however, the next step for progress was ‘supporting women all the way up to executive positions’.

So, what’s next?

Organisations can continue to assist the growth of women by providing support in the following ways:

  1. Listening – women provide different perspectives based on their skills and experiences, so it’s important consider this and provide an equal platform for them to be heard. Doing so could lead to further innovation and development.
  1. Creating gender neutral work environments – this type of environment creates flexibility and further assists to remove any unconscious bias, which in turn, normalises the uptake of roles across all levels.
  1. Advocating – actively endorsing a need for change is essential for progress. This means recruiting women at various levels, providing training, and empowering them to consider executive roles. This way women will feel more supported and confident in applying for leadership positions.

In addition, the Law Institute of Victoria has recently launched a Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession (Charter), which is aimed at ‘promoting and supporting strategies to retain women from all backgrounds in the profession’ and ‘provide practical guidance on steps that firms can take’. It’s encouraging to see this wider promotion of gender equality and particular importance placed on advancing female practitioners. As the LIV CEO Adam Awty has said, “it’s time to challenge our personal, professional and organisational norms, to speak up and take action”. [1] All Victorian law firms, and legal or justice workplaces should consider signing up to the Charter to further progress and unite the profession in supporting and advancing women, and thereby encouraging true gender equality.

Overall this milestone marks a small, but significant, win for women in the profession, serving as motivation and a reminder for all to recognise the progress that is still yet to be made.

If you would like to find out more about the charter, please visit the LIV website: https://bit.ly/2YxM8oJ. We also encourage you to share this blog with your networks. It's a great starting point for understanding why we need to have more nuanced conversations around equality in the profession. Use the hashtag #LIVEqual so we can look out for your posts.

 

Shaniya Vilash is Co-Chair of the LIV Young Lawyers Editorial Committee and a Junior Corporate Counsel at Daimler Truck and Bus Australia Pacific Pty Ltd.

 

[1] Law Society of New South Wales, ‘2020 National Profile of Solicitors’, (Report, 1 July 2021) <https://www.lawsociety.com.au/sites/default/files/2021-07/2020%20National%20Profile%20of%20Solicitors%20-%20Final%20-%201%20July%202021.pdf>.

[2] Bradley Roberts, ‘Female lawyers in Victoria outnumber males for the first time’, Victorian Legal Services Board (Media Release, 20 March 2018) <https://lsbc.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-02/Media_Release-%20Female_lawyers_in_Victoria_outnumber_males_for_the_first_time-2018_0.pdf>.

[3] Stephen Rice, ‘Women lawyers now outnumber men in Australia’, The Australian (online at 14 July 2021) <https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/legal-affairs/women-lawyers-now-outnumber-men-in-australia/news-story/e0a604263a5e065e4470911d48ad1fbf?btr=2d8af26f03c8a7af3fbe98ef11028d8a>.

[4] Housnia Shams, ‘Female lawyers outnumber males, but advocates say more women are needed in senior roles’, ABC News (online at 21 July 2021) <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-21/women-lawyers-australia-gender-equality-newlaw-law-society-/100309294>.

[5]LIV Media, ‘LIV launches Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession’, Law Instiute of Victoria (Media Release, 02 September 2021) < https://www.liv.asn.au/Staying-Informed/Media-Releases/Media-Releases/September-2021/LIV-launches-Charter-for-the-Advancement-of-Women-

 


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