Julia Gillard’s advice to young women lawyers
Former prime minister Julia Gillard has offered tips to emerging female legal professionals in what she describes as an “extraordinary time” to be establishing one’s self in law.
Speaking virtually on Monday, 8 March 2021, at an International Women’s Day breakfast hosted by legal practice management software provider LEAP, Julia Gillard outlined three key steps that women lawyers coming through the ranks can take, in accordance with this year’s IWD theme, “Choose to Challenge”.
To continue reading the rest of this article, please log in.
Create free account to get unlimited news articles and more!
Firstly, she suggested finding someone, or persons, who can serve as a mentor and sponsor.
“Not necessarily a woman, it could be a man – but find someone who is prepared to play a coach role for you, as a mentor and ultimately someone who is prepared to be your sponsor. By that, I mean a slightly different thing: a sponsor is someone who is prepared to put their brand in your service. Someone who is prepared to back you when promotions season comes around, someone who says that I know that she will do an incredible job, and help you navigate your way up the hierarchy that law firms do have,” she suggested.
Those coming through the ranks should be “very thoughtful about mentorship and sponsorship”, Ms Gillard opined.
One may not find the ideal candidate for such roles immediately, she mused, “but over the first few years of your professional career, having a scanning eye for who can best play those roles for you is really important”.
Secondly, Ms Gillard continued, emerging female lawyers should reach out “in a supportive sense” to other women in law, and ensure they have a network with whom they can decompress and discuss various issues being faced.
“It’s easy for all of us – no matter what levels we have served at – to get it in our heads that the problem is with us, rather than the world we are trying to make our way in,” she reflected.
One of the “most revealing conversations” Ms Gillard had when she was prime minister, she told the audience, was with Laura Liswood, the secretary-general of the Council of World Women Leaders, which comprises 72 women presidents, prime ministers, and heads of government.
“In the midst of my prime ministership, she spent an hour with me, talking about her perceptions of how I was being treated, and how much it reminded her of the experiences of other women leaders around the world. There was something so refreshing and relieving about that, that this wasn’t me – it was experiences women around the world were also having,” she recalled.
“So, find your group who can help you do that.”
Thirdly, Ms Gillard advised that female practitioners absorb the myriad literature available to them that details the experience of those who have come before them.
“Young women emerging in the profession now have the benefit, in many ways, of having seen this movie before. You’ve seen the treatment of other women leaders and you can learn from that, so that when the gendered moments come – and they inevitably will – you’re ready for it,” she said.
Such lessons, she noted, helped shape her own attitude to navigating inevitable criticism in the workplace and/or the public eye.
“When I started out in politics, I watched some of the other senior women at the time and tried to learn from their experiences. One thing I saw was this rollercoaster where they would, on a day of good headlines, looked like they were on top of the world, and on a day of bad headlines, looked like they were turned inwards and were truly suffering,” she mused.
“I said to myself, at the time, that I didn’t want to get on that roller coaster. So, for me, emotionally, it was about building resilience, piece-by-piece, so that when I was more publicly exposed and my turn came for that type of criticism, I was able to deal with it more dispassionately than if I hadn’t been through that process of internal building of resilience and my sense of self.”
Finally, Ms Gillard advised women to bear in mind that “data matters”.
“Try and persuade your firm to take a good look at its data about where women are at in the firm, when they tend to drop off. Most law firms – at the graduate level – will have a 50-50 split, or even be disproportionately women, but as you go higher to senior associate level and into the partnership, you will see a drop-off. If you can track that, and work out what is causing the drop-off, then you can fix it,” she said.
“So, data (and understanding it) matters. We’re in an era of bespoke solutions. Workplaces have done the easy and obvious things, and now, they need to dig deep to figure out what is best for their workplaces. I would also recommend taking the spirit of International Women’s Day with you every day. If you see something happening that is based on gender stereotypes, that is unfair, call it out. It doesn’t have to be done in a nasty way, just be clear.”
Speaking post-event, LEAP chief executive Donna Broadley added that facilitating the kind of mentorship and connectivity for clients that Ms Gillard referred to, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is “something that we have endeavoured to achieve as part of our ongoing commitment to innovation”.
“LEAP’s integrations with LawConnect, Microsoft Teams and Zoom now make it possible for our clients to stay connected with their colleagues when they can’t be together in the office,” she said.
Are you looking to launch your own practice but not sure where to start? Lawyers Weekly’s Boutique Law Summit returns to Sydney this month, designed for individuals who are looking to maximise their competitive edge in a post-pandemic marketplace. The event will be held on Friday, 26 March at the Four Seasons Hotel with a full agenda available to view here. To learn more about the event, click here.