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Vic takes leap to help women clear Bar hurdles

Vic takes leap to help women clear Bar hurdles

The Victorian Bar has launched a program that aims to triple the percentage of female silks in the state.

The Victorian Bar has launched a program that aims to triple the percentage of female silks in the state.

The Bar launched the Quantum Leap program, which aims to increase the number of women throughout all levels of the Bar, last night (12 November).

“Strong economic and moral arguments underpin the case for equality, and the Bar will be stronger for it,” said Fiona McLeod SC (pictured), the chair of the Victorian Bar Council.

The Quantum Leap program has set specific gender targets. Namely, it seeks to bring the number of female silks in Victoria from nine per cent to 30 percent over the next 10 years. In the same time period it is also seeking to lift the number of female barristers in their first two years at the Bar from the current level of 44 per cent to 50 per cent.

“Despite the promise of improvement, progress towards gender equality has been extremely slow and the numbers of women at a senior level at the Bar remain low,” added McLeod.

Yesterday (12 November), the Victorian Legal Services Board and the state’s Legal Services Commissioner also released its 2013 Annual Report.

For the last completed financial year ending 30 June 2013,  the report found that men significantly outnumber women at the Victorian Bar.

1456 men practise as barristers in the state compared to just 515 women.

Last year, three of Victoria’s 15 silk appointments were women.

Conscious and unconscious actions
The Quantum Leap program includes a seven-point plan of targeted actions to reach its gender targets.

This includes a ‘Silks Undertaking’ whereby senior counsel will publicly pledge a personal commitment to equality, including the recommendation of at least one new woman for a research task or junior brief annually.

The program also seeks to incorporate initiatives already being undertaken by large private practice firms, such as unconscious bias training, into Bar Council induction and the Silk Development program.

In a passionate address at last month’s Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards, McLeod directly addressed the bias in the profession that is adversely affecting women at the Bar.

“What is the unconscious bias that is having us choose men as naturally fitted to the better brief, the promotion, the hot file with the hot client that will take them somewhere,” said McLeod, who asked the question of “when we come to this bullshit argument about merit, what does it mean?

“What it means is that you have had the hot brief, the hot file and the hot client over and over, so it is inevitable that you will be given the promotion.

“So when you in this room make your decision about who to put forward for the brief, for the file, for the opportunity day by day, think about that unconscious bias.”

Improved mentoring for women and a reengagement roundtable have also been included as part of the seven-point plan.

The Bar has also committed itself to annually collate statistics around the percentage of women at the Bar and comparative gross earnings by seniority and areas of practice.

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