Kiwi firms doing us proud: Who struck gold at major Australasian awards

by Sophie Schroder13 Aug 2014
The best female lawyers from across New Zealand and Australia gathered in Sydney last week to celebrate the third Australasian Women in Business Law Awards.
 
Almost half a dozen Kiwi firms and their top female lawyers were recognised for being industry leaders in everything from diversity and innovation to specific practice areas.
 
NZ Lawyer has spoken to a selection of the winners to discover what they’ve been doing that is special.
 
Jo Copeland, the HR director of Simpson Grierson says all the hard work the firm has put in over the past 18 months after a change in strategy has paid off wonderfully.
 
The firm won four awards – more than any other Kiwi counterpart. These included individual awards for partner Karen Ngan for “best in TMT” and partner Phillipa Muir for “Best in workplace relations, employment and safety”, and two firm awards for “best firm for diversity” and “most innovative firm”.
 
Copeland says for her personally, the diversity award was particularly pertinent.
 
“We re-did our strategy about 18 months ago and diversity was one of the big things we wanted to focus on,” she says. “We’ve done so much in that area, so it was great to be recognised…there has been a really strong focus at board level on diversity and inclusion and the work has really just started to pay off dividends.”
 
Simpson Grierson’s hard work has included not only gender diversity, but diversity of culture and sexual identity.
 
The firm is set to become the first-ever New Zealand recipient of the Rainbow Tick, which recognises those that support LGBTI employees and have procedures in place to handle cases of harassment, adequate staff support and show they engage with the community outside of the workplace.
 
“The nicest thing for us is that our clients are recognising us and saying, ‘man, you guys are really standing out’,” says Copeland. “It’s great to be able to do something positive – I love what I do.”
 
Another homegrown firm that did smashingly at the awards was Anderson Lloyd, the top tier South Island firm that has just opened an office in Auckland.
 
The firm picked up an impressive three awards on the night, including an individual award for partner owner Kerry O’Donnell for “best in real estate”, a city award for Christchurch and a firm award for “best Australasian firm for talent management”.
 
O’Donnell told NZ Lawyer that the awards are hugely significant for Anderson Lloyd because they recognise its history of promoting and encouraging women at partnership level and with its entire legal staff, both solicitors and administration.
 
“Certainly Anderson Lloyd has a number of policies that assist women into the senior roles within the firm and these include flexible working hours, extended maternity leave arrangements and work/life initiatives,” says O’Donnell. “However the policies only go so far and it’s a genuine commitment by the partnership and management to gender diversity within the firm that sees us with significantly more women at senior level than a lot of firms. I don't think we can underestimate the effect of role models in sustaining this either. Once a critical number of women in any organisaton is reached, the creation and growth of the next generation of women in senior roles is a natural flow on effect.”
 
Kiwi firm Kensington Swan was another to do the New Zealand legal profession proud on the night of the Australasian Women in Law Awards.
 
It took home the city award for Auckland and the award for “best New Zealand firm for women in business law”.
 
Sandra Gilliam, the firm’s people director told NZ Lawyer that the problem of women’s careers stalling in business law has “vexed” the profession for a generation, and the awards recognise that Kensington Swan’s efforts are working.
 
“For a while now our women lawyers have individually benefitted from our programmes, and the firm has attracted more high calibre women at all levels, not least because of the flexibility we provide,” she says. “Our solicitors have benefitted by being trained and mentored by these very talented colleagues, and our clients have a wider range of choices. It’s a virtuous circle and the awards have added to us being seen as a very contemporary workplace.”

Programmes that the firm has put in place include flexible work policies for all, a culture which explores and addresses unconscious bias, and career development and leadership workshops for women.
 
Minter Ellison Rudd Watts also came away a big winner on the night. It scooped up the firm award for “best mentoring programme by Australasian firm”.
 
People and performance director Liz Hall says this is the second year in a row Minters has received this award, which is important because it gives the firm the opportunity to benchmark itself against the best in New Zealand and Australia.
 
“To come out on top is a real credit to the staff and partners involved in delivering the programme.  The award formally recognises the efforts of those people who contribute time to be mentors, supporting our MentorMe and Kelston Girls Mentoring programmes. We really feel these programmes make a tangible difference to those involved, both mentors and mentees, in achieving in their personal and career goals,” she says.  “We think winning the award also makes MERW an attractive employer, because it gives new and current staff the confidence that we take professional development seriously and have established award winning programmes.”

Minter’s MentorMe programme matched up year 13 students from Kelston Girls School with a junior solicitor mentor, in order to help the students achieve their full potential in relation to tertiary education, scholarships and career choices.

Russell McVeagh was another to represent New Zealand at the ceremony, taking home an impressive three awards.
 
These included two individual awards – one went to partner Pip Greenwood for “best in capital markets”, and the other to partner Deemple Budhia for “rising star: finance”.
 
The firm also won the city award for Wellington.
 

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