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It’s time to eliminate female rivalry in the legal profession

If you have made it to the top, do not pull up the ladder behind you and leave other women to struggle, writes Stefanie Costi.

user iconStefanie Costi 17 May 2023 Careers
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Early in my career in law, I was bullied by a senior female lawyer.

Sadly, I am not the only woman in the profession who has had to endure such inexorable behaviour.

Fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to have the support of colleagues, both male and female. They saw my potential and helped me navigate through the tough times.


Even though it has been years since that experience, I still feel sorry for that senior female lawyer.

How challenging would it have been for her to succeed in a male-dominated field where only one woman could reach the top?

Sisterhood or sabotage?

Over time, I have come to understand that there were three significant factors that played a role in the behaviour of the senior lawyer I encountered.

The first reason is that she may have felt insecure and threatened by other women, which might have been a result of gender-based discrimination she faced in her career.

The second reason is the “one seat at the table” mentality, which often fuels female rivalry. According to Mikaela Kiner’s book, Female Firebrands, women who adopt this mindset and engage in conflicts with their female colleagues may impede overall progress. Instead, women should strive to support each other and collaborate for greater opportunities and success.

The third reason behind this phenomenon could have been the “Queen Bee syndrome”. The tale of the “Queen Bee” came from a 1973 study, which suggested that women in top positions not only fail to assist other women in advancing up the corporate ladder but also actively prevent them from doing so to protect themselves.

Women are taking over the law

The Australian legal profession comprises more female solicitors than ever before.

Based on the 2022 National Profile of Solicitors, published last week, more than half of all solicitors in every Australian state and territory are now female.

Reports also suggest that women are outnumbering men in law schools, as evidenced by the larger number of female students completing their practical legal training in the College of Law’s programs for several years.

All this evidence starkly illustrates the need for women to let go of the idea that only one female can hold a position of power and instead work together to support and uplift one another.

How can women better support other women in the legal arena?

If you have made it to the top, do not pull up the ladder behind you and leave other women to struggle. Rather than making it difficult for them to progress, lend a helping hand through mentoring and guidance. One way to do this is by mentoring and assisting them when they need it.

Identify talented women around you and support them in their growth by helping them get promotions, salary hikes, and flexibility.

When you see a woman struggling at work, offer assistance instead of talking negatively or gossiping about them. Instead, if you have constructive feedback, share it with the person concerned in a respectful manner.

Seek guidance from experienced female colleagues and publicly acknowledge women who perform well.

Look for women who believe in your success and are not threatened by it.

From personal experience, I can assure you that such women still exist.

Stefanie Costi is a junior lawyer and director of Costi Copywriting.