The Law Society will continue to champion change for women at the highest levels of the profession this year, including looking at an idea from Australia.
The most recent statistics available for New Zealand show that overall 46.3% of practising certificates held by lawyers in law firms are held by women, but only 19.8% of partners or directors in those firms are women.
Equally concerning – and a recent area of focus for the Law Society - just 15% of practising Queens Counsel and 28.1% of judges in all courts are women.
New Zealand Law Society president Chris Moore said gender diversity and balance had been targeted previously, but that the profession was still not seeing the rate of progression of women into senior roles that was expected.
“The Law Society wishes to raise awareness and encourage discussion of key issues impacting women lawyers’ career progression in New Zealand,” he said.
“Some people have said to me retention and advancement of women in the profession as a ‘women’s issue’ or something that does not affect them or their practice. However, the reality is this is a serious issue for the whole profession.”
“The key to success for any firm is the ability to attract, develop and retain the best talent. With women making up more than half of those entering the profession it is essential this talent pool is not going to waste.”
Moore said an issue that has gained more clarity – particularly through the recent Women’s career progression in Auckland law firms: view from the top, view from the bottom
report (Produced by the Gender and Diversity Research Group AUT University for the Auckland Women Lawyers’ Association, 2014) is the difference in perceptions between men and women on problems and barriers.
“What we need first is for our leaders to understand and accept that there is an issue, then they need to act,” Moore told NZ Lawyer
“I can’t put this better than Justice Glazebrook – chair of the conference Women, the Law – and the Corner Office
– who said, ‘
People at the top of law firms have to actively lead change that permeates their whole institution if we are to see strides made in advancing women in the higher levels of the profession’
That is why the Law Society is putting resources into bringing more awareness and understanding to this issue and encourage champions of change, he said.
“There has been a lot of research and practical guidance in this area and in particular we have been looking at the research and achievements by the Queensland Male Champions of Change
group. This group has provided some very good guidance about how to address some of these issues in practice.”
‘Willful blindness’ and unconscious bias is likely to be the biggest challenge standing in the way of change. “We often do not fully understand our actions or give proper thought as to how other’s view how we behave,” Moore said.
“Unconscious bias is not malicious but it does affect how we act. It takes effort and thought to pull back on unconscious behaviour and sometimes it takes others being strong and pointing out unconscious behaviour in the workplace.”
The Law Society will continue to champion change throughout the year. “This year we will be continuing to raise awareness and talking to more law firms specifically interested in progressing a joint approach in this area.
But in the end, success can only be measured in one way - by the numbers. “Ultimately success will be an increase in the number of women in senior roles, more women in partnerships, more female Queen’s Counsel, more women judges, and more women directors and on boards,” Moore said.