Mallesons Stephen Jaques played host to a senior United Nations (UN) delegate yesterday (8 September) as it became a signatory to a global initiative promoting gender diversity and equality in business.
The UN Women's Assistant Secretary General, Lakshmi Puri, was guest of honour at a lunch to celebrate the firm's ascension to the UN Women's Empowerment Principles.
The principles are designed to engage with corporations around the globe and focus on seven core features, including establishing high-level corporate leadership for gender equality; treating all women and men fairly at work; promoting education, training and development for women; and measuring and publicly reporting on progress to achieve gender equality.
Puri, who has 37 years' experience in economic and development policy, said companies who sign up to the principles demonstrate smart business, and that the UN is seeking to partner with businesses in Australia and across the globe in order to "make a difference".
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly after the event, Mallesons' chief executive partner Robert Milliner said the firm was ready to become a signatory to the principles and see them as a way of continuing and bolstering the firm's diversity strategies.
"We are adopting the principles as a way of providing some targets for us and providing a framework within which to drive some of our further work," said Milliner. "It is also to be clear about our commitment to publicly report on our work. It matches our own strategies and values and the work we have done internally and, because it was very reflective of where we knew we wanted to go, it seemed to be a very appropriate thing to do."
Milliner also reflected on the importance of a genuine commitment to diversity, which he said increasingly requires flexibility and a willingness to accommodate different workplace needs.
Just under one quarter of Mallesons current partners are women.
"It's not doing it just for diversity's sake. It is making sure that the career opportunities match the people and the talent in the organisation," he said. "There is an increasing need for firms to have flexibility as people seek different types of working arrangements ... From our point of view it is talent driven. How do you get the best people to allow you to service your clients? Diversity is one element of getting the best talent."
Milliner said the new commitment will ensure gender diversity becomes culturally entrenched within the firm.
"You can't shy away from obligations that you have in place. It is not something that we can just say, 'We've ticked that box'," he said. "We now are hardwiring to the firm a series of commitments. It is easy to get caught up in populism rather than building it into a true part of your culture ... It gives us further incentive to do not just the things that we thought were right, but to pursue these as appropriate business principles."
Mallesons' head of diversity, Neil Cockroft, told Lawyers Weekly that the decision to sign up was about taking a lead role within the Australian business community.
"It is about playing a leadership role in the Australian business community, and I think we have a valuable role to play," he said.
"Being a signatory to the principles sends a strong signal to our staff, our clients, and our community partners that we are committed to achieving full gender equality in our firm. I hope that more Australian businesses will make that commitment in the future."