The question of parental leave is one of the big issues women aiming for leadership positions in the legal sphere face, New Zealand partners of a global law firm say.
DLA Piper New Zealand has launched a new initiative to connect, empower and inspire women in law - as well as discuss some of the challenges they face.
The first panel discussion in a series of events for the firm’s Leadership Alliance for Women (LAW) initiative is being held on March 19. New Zealand Herald business columnist Fran O’Sullivan will facilitate the discussion - with guest speakers Federation of Maori Authorities chair Traci Houpapa, Auckland Council chief financial officer Suzanne Tindal, and Westpac chief executive David McLean on the panel.
“The big thing that everyone talks about is the issue of parental leave,” DLA Piper New Zealand partner Tracey Cross said.
“It does deter a lot of women who think that, ‘I’m going to take some time off, that’s the end of my career.”
“It doesn’t have to be fatal.”
Fellow DLA Piper New Zealand partner Laura Scampion agreed.
“First, it’s the perspective that women themselves have about taking parental leave and going part time: ‘well, that means I can't be a leader, because I’m taking a step back’.”
“Second, it’s the perception that perhaps some male leaders may have in some organisations: ‘well she probably won’t want a leadership role because she’s got a family or because she’s focusing the main part of her efforts at home rather than at work’.”
“Third, I think it’s also the perspective of those employees/peers that women might be working alongside – there’s still a little bit of a barrier there in terms of ‘oh, she just works part time’, or ‘she’s doing flexible work, she works school hours, so she’s probably not going to be a partner’.”
“I think the challenges are breaking those perceptions down amongst those three groups.”
The main goal of the LAW was to support and mentor female lawyers, Cross said.
“A growing appetite exists within the firm to launch a women's network program that provides a platform for engaging with senior female clients and targets in a meaningful way."
“Female in-house lawyers are increasingly outnumbering their male counterparts so we need to ensure we engage and support them. It’s about creating a dialogue with them and the broader New Zealand market on issues relating to women in the workforce.”
“I think some of the issues that women are facing is, ‘I’m a lawyer now and I want to be a partner – how do I get there?’ With all this sharing of experiences I think the women in DLA Piper New Zealand are starting to see there is a clearer path to partnership.”
The LAW also involves the firm’s in-house clients and other women in leadership roles, she said.
“We’ve gone out and asked our clients what they want because it’s more than just social functions… what they’ve said and part of what we focus on is actually having events that get inspirational senior female lawyers and people in government and the corporate environment to share their experiences, how they got there, what are the learnings, how people can benefit from that."
The programme has had a positive impact at the firm already, Scampion said.
“Internally, LAW is still in its infancy within the firm, but it’s led to an increased dialogue amongst women fee earners or lawyers about leadership and just generally career options.”
“It’s really exciting for our younger women because they’re there at the meetings and they’ve got an audience with senior fee earning employees and senior partners. It’s an open environment where you’re not going to be interrupted, you’re not going to feel like you’re asking a stupid question, and I think that one of the key issues here about moving up into leadership roles is an increased dialogue and sharing experiences, because once we start doing that as women, we’re going to progress.”