LISTENING WAS a key part of new sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s leadership role at Blake Dawson, according to the firm’s director of people development, Kate Cato.
The commissioner spearheaded the firm’s 2005—06 review of its flexible work practices, consulting with over 300 current and former employees, also conducting “client listening” sessions.
Cato believes that the events of 1996 were a crucible for Broderick’s dynamic approach to flexible workplace arrangements,
“Within [Broderick’s] practice there were a mix of lawyers and technology experts, and it happened by 1996 they had a fantastic business and certainly in Australia at that time it was unique. Within a few days four of our most senior members of the group — including Liz — announced that they were pregnant,” Kato said.
“Liz always tells the story that it could have meant the end of that group. Instead it meant the beginning of a commitment to flexible work and innovative work practices that became the microcosm for the approach that Blakes has taken for the ensuing 11 years and beyond.”
Broderick’s willingness to trial new work arrangements and embrace emerging technologies was the key to her success at the firm. “It was an incredible coincidence — a visionary leader in a really innovative business with some very committed people, all of whom were really driven by necessity to think about different ways to work,” Cato said.
Broderick is confident that her own experiences, and the information she gathers on her listening tour will help map a path for equality.
“I suppose I’ve spent my career with quite empowered knowledge workers, and on this tour I am meeting some of the most vulnerable workers. I mean tomorrow I’m running a men-only focus group at an abattoir in South Australia, so I’m speaking and I’m out meeting with workers and it’s giving me a different frame,” Broderick said.
Broderick has identified three main areas where action is needed. “They’re the themes around economic independence for women and that would include things like pay equity, women’s retirement savings and then we are hearing clearly that people want paid maternity leave which is interesting.” she said.
“The issue of sexual harassment is still a significant issue, although its nature changing, it’s increasingly around internet and texting.”
The new commissioner has discovered these key equality issues span all industries and socioeconomic groups: “It doesn’t matter what industry, what socioeconomic background, what age group or whatever, a lot of the issues are very common. There’s a great deal of commonality around what issues matter in equality.”