IF STATISTICS are correct and your firm is being flooded with female bright young things as they graduate, but is finding their numbers dissipate further up the hierarchy, there is a chance women are being disadvantaged along the way. Stemming the exodus may seem a daunting task but, at the very least, there are things you can do slow it down.
With seven months’ reporting on females within the legal profession behind it, Lawyers Weekly’s award-winning Women in Law section offers its top five suggestions.
Make it matter in your firm
If people don’t know your firm cares about promoting women, they won’t bother trying to make it happen. Everyone, from the managing partner to the coffee person, should be aware that gender equity is a priority. Start talking about it. Minter Ellison’s Adelaide office has formed a working group that raises the issue of how women can reach higher positions in which men currently make up the majority. “Because only nine out of 38 partners in the office are female, despite a 60 per cent majority of female lawyers in the firm, there is a need to enlighten the male partners,” Minter Ellison partner Jo-Anne Deuter says.
Introduce a whistle blowing culture
If there is a sexual harassment matter in your workplace, does everyone know what to do about it? If a women is struggling with balancing her work and caring for her one year-old, does she know with whom to discuss flexible work options? Women need to know what their options are and that they have people to whom they can turn, just in case. Put the firm’s policies and options up on the intranet site for everyone to see.
Flexibility breeds better workers
Sarah Coffey, current convenor of Victorian Women Lawyers, says that inflexible work practices remain one of the key reasons why so many female lawyers choose to leave the law within three or so years. While some firms offer part-time positions, others choose to give some women practitioners the option of working entirely from home. However, both the lawyer and firm need to make sure they are dedicated to and happy about the chosen arrangement.
Use your best resource — your people
Minter Ellison Adelaide partner Jo-Anne Deuter helped develop a new a new program called [email protected] that in part assists younger women find someone they can talk to about problems they face. The program gives an opportunity for the women in the firm to talk through career options. Firms should gather together working groups that can discuss why women are leaving, and where they are going, and start implementing systems to stop it happening.
Stop using clients as excuses
Minter Ellison partner Jo-Anne Deuter says, “it’s always thrown up that clients don’t like it if you work from home”. She argues, however, that clients appreciate that lawyers have their own lives; plus, if you have a mobile you are just as contactable as you are in the office. “I can say with my hand on my heart that I have yet to have a client who has complained that I am not in the office,” she says. The key is having good systems in place and good IT. As well, if clients know you are working from home and that you are available there, then they are fine with it — but you do have to make this transparent. With the support of the firm, it works, Deuter says.