20 law firms WGEA certified in ‘record’ gender equality year

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20 law firms WGEA certified in ‘record’ gender equality year

Libby Lyons

More than twenty legal bodies have been recognised as leaders in Australian workplace gender equality as part of this year’s WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality list.

With a record 141 organisations receiving the 2018–19 citation, 20 of those named as “leaders in workplace gender equality” were law firms, while the Law Society of NSW also made the cut.

This upped the representation of legal bodies from 2017/18’s citation of 18

The WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality list is compiled by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and recognises employer commitment and best practice in promoting gender equality in Australian workplaces.

Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers, Hall & Wilcox, and Sparke Helmore Lawyers were new additions to this year’s citation list.

Returning to the list after their 2017–18 inclusion were: Allens, Ashurst Australia, Baker McKenzie, Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, DLA Piper Australia, Gilbert + Tobin, Herbert Smith Freehills, Holding Redlich, K&L Gates, King & Wood Mallesons, Maddocks, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, McCullough Robertson Lawyers, MinterEllison, Norton Rose Fulbright Australia, and Russell Kennedy Lawyers.


WGEA’s director Libby Lyons said the growth in recipients showed increasing recognition from Australian employers that gender equality is not just good for business, but gives organisations a competitive advantage.

Trends among the 2018–19 recipients, according to the WGEA, included: entrenching of flexible work, programs supporting women into leadership, tailored parental leave policies, initiatives to encourage women in returning to work, support of men’s caring responsibilities, setting of targets to achieve gender-equal graduate recruitment, and robust analysis and correction of gender pay gaps.

With gender equality becoming “an important focus for Australian employers”, Ms Lyons said that policies and strategies cannot live on paper.

“They have to be implemented. Targets need to be set, outcomes monitored and managers, executives and boards made accountable for the results,” Ms Lyons extrapolated.

She noted that the EOCGE citation “does not signify that these employers have solved all of their gender equality issues”.

Instead, she said “it recognises that they have embraced a rigorous and detailed programme to transform their workplaces”.

“These leading employers know the importance of achieving gender equality for their employees and for their business and are implementing leading-practice measures to do so.”

Criteria for the citation covered leadership, learning and development, gender remuneration gaps, flexible work, employee consultation, prevention of sex-based harassment and discrimination, as well as targets for improvement of gender equality outcomes.

A new prerequisite for 2018–19 focused on strengthening of accountability about an organisation’s formal gender equality strategy.

A number of law firms reached out to Lawyers Weekly following their inclusion on the list. Here’s what they had to say:


Ashurst has received WGEA’s employer of choice for gender equality citation for the 18th consecutive year, the firm noted.

Global managing partner Paul Jenkins said the firm was proud to be leading the way with a “sustained focus on diversity and inclusion”.

Ashurst’s gender diversity initiatives include the Committed to Change initiative, the RISE programme to bring together female senior leaders, bystander intervention training, as well as a commitment to join Male Champions of Change.

Baker McKenzie

For the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee chair and partner Anne-Marie Allgrove, the organisation “is deeply committed to shifting the dial on gender equality, providing equal opportunity to both men and women in progressing their careers”.

“No doubt, we have a long way to go and will continue to relentlessly pursue greater progress,” she continued, noting that striving to obtain WGEA’s EOCGE citation each year enables the firm to “continually review and assess what we are doing and challenges us to do more”.

Clayton Utz

With it’s fifth appearance on the list, the firm said it is seeing improvements in gender diversity at senior levels and is on track to meet its target of 35 per cent of women in the partnership by 2022.

Chief executive partner Rob Cutler said that “over the years we have made a conscious and diligent effort to address and support gender diversity in the workplace including setting gender targets, addressing gender pay equity and appointing a dedicated flexibility manager which reflects the firm’s commitment to embracing a flexible work culture”.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth

Certified for the 13th consecutive year, Corrs recently updated its policy to make superannuation contributions to employees during both paid and unpaid parental leave.

The firm’s new stance will see Corrs make contributions for up to 12 months for any employees taking either paid or unpaid primary carer or secondary carers leave.

CEO and WGEA pay equity ambassador Gavin MacLaren said “delivering our gender equality strategy is a key priority for me and is critical to our success as a firm”.

DLA Piper

The firm noted it has been a WGEA citation holder since 2014.

DLA Piper’s co-managing partner Melinda Upton said the firm was proud of its demonstration to turn commitments into action, and contribute to positive change across the industry and the business community.

Co-managing partner Jim Holding called gender equality “more than just a workplace issue”.

The firm takes “a holistic, sustainable and measured approach to our commitments, to enable all our staff to understand and value the importance of gender equality not just for our firm, but more broadly”, Mr Holding said.

Herbert Smith Freehills

Herbert Smith Freehills’ inclusion on this year’s list comes alongside the firm’s regional managing partner Andrew Pike being named as a WGEA pay equity ambassador.

“Becoming a WGEA Pay Equity Ambassador is my personal commitment to lead and deliver on the commitments we have made as a firm, and I’m proud to be able to advocate for gender equality through this role,” Mr Pike said.

For the firm, he said “we set challenging objectives for ourselves as an organisation for what success looks like in terms of diversity and inclusion”.

“We know that our clients and our people want to engage with, and be part of, a firm where every person can thrive and feel included,” he continued.

“Gender equality is an essential part of an inclusive culture, and we’ve taken steps to remove the structural barriers that can prevent women from being recognised for their talent.”

Holding Redlich

It’s the 11th entry in a row for the east coast firm, with national managing partner Ian Robertson expressing his pride.

Mr Robertson said the “most recent statistics show that our gender pay equity gap is less than 1 per cent in favour of males compared to the legal industry average of 22.6 per cent in favour of males”.

The firm’s head of people and development, Helen Ayres, is “very pleased at the high level of support received across the firm for the ongoing development of our gender equity initiatives as we continue to adapt and evolve our policies to ensure they stay relevant to our employees”.


CEO Michelle Dixon called her firm’s 15th consecutive year of citation “significant”.

She said policies and practices that are in place “have encouraged behaviours that are now our culture”.

In the firm’s staff engagement survey last year, Ms Dixon said there was an “18 percent increase in our staff saying that their partner or manager genuinely supports equality between men and women”.

“The past 15 years have also been a period of rapid expansion and high-revenue growth for Maddocks, which shows that an engaged and diverse workplace is a more profitable and successful workplace,” she continued.

Maurice Blackburn

The plaintiff firm has achieved 50 per cent female representation on its board and said it has removed restrictions on staff discussing their remuneration with colleagues.

Its second year on the citation list illustrates the firm’s ongoing efforts as a firm to achieve gender equality, according to chief executive Jacob Varghese.

“With WGEA continuing to tighten the eligibility criteria for the EOCGE citation, the re-accreditation process holds us to account against our own standards,” Mr Varghese continued.

“Looking ahead, we are focused on closing gaps between male and female average salaries in comparable roles,” he noted.

“The work continues – both in and outside Maurice Blackburn – to make equality at work a reality for Australian women.”


Making the list for the fifth consecutive year, MinterEllison's chief executive officer and managing partner, Annette Kimmitt, said the firm "has a longstanding commitment to progressing gender equality within the firm, across the legal profession and in our communities". 

"We have worked hard to extend our inclusive, high performance culture and leverage the diversity of our people and remain committed to a diverse Leadership and Partnership," she noted.

The firm has a target of 30% female Partners and 30% female Board by 2020, with the firm working on "building, supporting and retaining a diverse senior leadership pipeline of talent”, Ms Kimmitt said.  

Russell Kennedy Lawyers

Managing director Paul Gleeson said Russell Kennedy Lawyers firm “continues to prioritise the four key areas of flexibility, gender composition, gender pay equity and leader & manager capability”.

“The citation benefits our people in the four key areas and helps to ensure that we are a leading firm for the attraction, promotion and retention of our people,” he explained.

Head of people and culture Leanda Nissen said the firm’s application for the citation “reflected the wider trends among this year’s recipients, including entrenching organisation-wide flexible work practices, tailored parental leave policies to support use by women and men, programs to increase women in leadership, initiatives to support women to return to work and robust analysis and correction of gender pay gaps”.

Sparke Helmore

Sparke Helmore was “delighted” to announce it had made this year’s cut, with the firm’s national managing partner Phillip Salem explaining that the firm has “significantly improved gender representation in our leadership and decision-making forums; women now make up 33 percent of our partnership and 50 percent of the firm’s board”.

“We have worked strategically and intentionally to embed equality and inclusion into our culture,” he continued.

“We know this will benefit all of our people and allow them to thrive in their careers and personal lives.”


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