find the latest legal job
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Full time · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
Legal Inhouse / Lawyer / Company Secretary
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· Fantastic Company · Potential to be Part Time / Flexible Work Pattern
View details
Part Time Risk & Compliance Officer
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· Brisbane City · Flexible Part Time Hours
View details
Don’t take ignorant insults

Don’t take ignorant insults

A panel of female lawyers shared their experiences of how they have overcome sexist comments throughout their careers_x000D_

A panel of female lawyers shared their experiences of how they have overcome sexist comments throughout their careers.

The interactive session took place as part of the two-day Women In Law Leadership Summit on 11 and 12 September in Sydney, and featured four panellists discussing the importance of self belief in career success.

“Women apologise far too much. If men make a mistake, first of all they will barely recognise it and [if they do] it would take them a nanosecond to move on,” said Julie McPherson, group general counsel and company secretary at Amcor Limited.

McPherson graduated to a property lawyer role in 1981, despite a strong desire to work in finance law. She tried hard to be noticed by commercial partners at the firm, in the hope of joining their practice, but was encouraged by a male partner to stay in property as, he said, it would be easier for a female wanting to have children.

“It sort of took me aback and in hindsight it was such bad advice because they needed somebody in that space, so they employed somebody else and my exposure started to go down,” said McPherson.

“It pushed me down a path that wasn’t what I wanted to do, and for very wrong reasons.”

Penny Grau, who was at Clayton Utz for 17 years before becoming the general counsel and company secretary at Tatts Group Limited, told of a similar experience where a male partner told her she did not have the “gravitas” to become a partner.

“It was a tight market, I was a senior associate and I asked about my prospects for partnership … they didn’t think that intellectually I was going to get there, so apart from feeling devastated I went and did my master of law and did very well in that,” explained Grau.

“They told me basically a year later that I had done a hell of a lot of work on my gravitas and they were very proud of me, but I had to say ‘look, I didn’t agree with your comment back then I still don’t’…I confronted it head on.”

The panel discussed the importance of recognising instances that reflect on yourself, and those that reflect on others.

“[They made those comments] because they didn’t have a lot of work on,” said Grau.

Elle Nikou, a lawyer at Piper Alderman, told of how during a big case she was working on as a young lawyer one male client handed her the cheque and said “here you go toots, go buy yourself some shoes”.

“My first reaction was ‘oh my goodness, what does this say about me; how is this reflecting on the image I’m putting out; am I not being professional enough?’ and then I thought no, this actually has nothing to do with me, it’s a reflection on this person and his background, motivations and experience, or inexperience,” she said.

Women in the 15-strong audience piped up with stories of similar encounters: one young female lawyer said she was asked to cook the next staff barbeque in a bikini; others had been insistently called ‘baby’ or ‘love’ around the office. Panellists appeared unsurprised and discussed the best way to navigate working in a “predominantly senior male environment”.

“There’s got to be a balance between not losing the femininity and the diversity that you’re bringing, but at the end of the day, sometimes maybe you can adjust, to some extent, because they’re the ones around the table,” said McPherson.

Nikou was quick to point out the difference between being aware of a situation and navigating through it, as opposed to pandering to it, and panellists agreed that senior colleagues should not tolerate inappropriate sexist comments.

“There’s got to be a bit of a sisterhood about this,” said Nikou.

The panel discussed traps that women can fall into when seeking to exercise influence or assert their position in an organisation.

Making statements in the form of a question in meetings, volunteering overly for things, over-explaining or justifying little things like running late, using emotion to try and influence people, and over-perfecting things were all said to be behaviours to avoid.

Naomi James, chief legal officer at Arrium, said that most women naturally tried to make people feel comfortable and so were accommodating and apologetic.

“In some situations it’s really important to be able to do that, in other situations it’s really important to assert your influence,” said James. “You have to have a multiple range of approaches.”

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Don’t take ignorant insults
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Nov 23 2017
Education a passion for YL president
Promoted by University of Melbourne. Melbourne Law Masters student Phoebe Blank is successfully j...
Crowd
Nov 23 2017
Anti-radicalisation programs playing ‘second fiddle’ to terrorism laws
Several academics have questioned the balance between Australia’s counterterrorism legislation and...
 William Ah Ket
Nov 23 2017
‘Bamboo ceiling’ thought piece wins inaugural law prize
A paper that explores the idea of affirmative action to achieve greater diversity among members of A...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...