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‘I feel and see the micro and macro aggressions in my workplace every day’: Report

A new report from Women’s Legal Service Victoria shows a shockingly high number of people suffering discrimination, bullying and harassment based on ethnicity, race, religion, disability and gender.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 16 June 2022 Big Law
‘I feel and see the micro and macro aggressions in my workplace every day’: Report

Photo Credit: David Jones

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Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLS VIC) has released its Gender and Intersectional Inequality: Power and Privilege in Victoria’s Legal and Justice Workforce report, which intends to drive and support action in the state’s legal and justice workplaces to address gender inequality and intersectional forms of discrimination and disadvantage.

More than 300 professionals responded to a survey for the report, 93 per cent of whom were women and 31 per cent of whom identified as LGBTQI+. Over half (52 per cent) have a cultural identity other than Australian, 19 per cent of participants were born overseas, 38 per cent are living with a disability, and 3 per cent are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The report, and its recommendations, were launched yesterday (Wednesday, 15 June 2022) by Victorian Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams.

 
 

The event, hosted virtually, also saw Women’s Legal Service Victoriadirector of education and engagement Eila Pourasgheri (pictured) facilitate a panel discussion with Sir Zelman Cowen Centre director and lawyer Nyadol Nyuon, RMIT vice chancellor’s Indigenous research fellow Dr Crystal McKinnon, Slater and Gordon principal Naty Guerrero-Diaz, and Our Watch workplace equality and respect project lead Anu Mundkur.

Findings

On the topic of discrimination, there were the following findings: 

  • One in four (25 per cent) have experienced discrimination due to their ethnicity, race or religion;
  • 22 per cent said they experienced discrimination due to disability or mental illness; and
  • 11 per cent said that they experienced discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
With regard to bullying and harassment: 

  • Nearly half (45 per cent) described bullying or harassment due to gender; 
  • 13 per cent described bullying or harassment due to disability; and
  • 15 per cent described bullying or harassment due to race, ethnicity or religion.
And, in the context of workplace cultures and exclusion: 

  • Over one in two (57 per cent) said that they had observed discriminatory attitudes and/or cultures in their workplace;
  • Two in five (40 per cent) participants did not report or seek support for the bullying, harassment or discrimination that they had experienced; and
  • Nearly half (44 per cent) said that their experiences had caused them to consider leaving the law altogether.
In the words of one research participant: “The legal sector is still based on archaic, patriarchal structures.

“It’s so hard to unpack all the subtle discrimination that happens, day-to-day. I feel and see the micro and macro aggressions of classism, racism, ableism in my workplace every day, and my workplace is a ‘social justice’ organisation. Change really has to be made from the top down, and from the bottom up,” the participant said.

Another described their experiences as such: “Asked where I am from regularly. Not being allowed in the courtroom early and asked to wait with clients once due to racial profiling. Bench mispronounces my name despite weekly appearances before them. Waiting to be called for hours due to senior lawyers being prioritised. Being spoken down to or patronised due to gender or being exposed to sexism.” 

Recommendations and reflections

WLS VIC outlined seven recommendations in its report to drive change. These are: the establishment of infrastructure and capacity for organisational change, action that is “both top-down and bottom-up”, the gathering of data through meaningful engagement to understand what is going on in organisations, the planning and implementation of mutually reinforcing strategies led by an analysis of data, increased safety for persons to speak about their experiences and report abuse, the creation of “transformative” women’s leadership and career progression opportunities that “disrupt systems and cultures of power and elitism”, and the engagement of male professionals in such conversations and processes.

Speaking about the report and its findings, Ms Pourasgheri said that the report, which builds on the 2019 Starts With Us discussion paper, helps the profession to better understand how the needs of all women in the legal and just sectors can be met.

“It tells us clearly that a one size fits all approach to gender inequality won’t work,” she proclaimed.

Dr Monica Campo, a research manager at WLS VIC, added that legal and justice organisations have a responsibility to make workplaces safe.

“Over half of the research participants observed discrimination in their workplaces and almost half reported considering leaving the sector,” she noted.

“As a workforce of 32,000 people, our sector can make a significant contribution to Victoria-wide efforts to address sexism and gender inequality as the underlying drivers of violence against women.”

Ms Pourasgheri added: “If we are serious about ending violence against women, workplaces are a key setting for change and the legal sector has an important role to play.”

The report – together with the wider Starts With Us project – is funded by the Victorian government’s Free from Violence strategy.

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