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Working collaboratively to promote sustainable practice across the legal sector

Gender Equality

Use this page from our website to find out more about how your firm can develop and implement strategy or policy around Gender Equality. Included here are some tips you might like to consider and some additional research materials for you to use. Use the navigation buttons at the top of this page.

About Gender Equality

Gender equality is an issue of international economic and social importance and is achieved in the workplace when people are able to access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of gender.

According to a recent article from Forbes, however, law firms provide one of the more graphic examples of persistent gender imbalance of any sector and the Women Lawyers Association of NSW state that while more women are being promoted to top-tier law-firm partnerships than ever before, leadership of the Australian Legal profession is "overwhelmingly male dominated" (Law Society Journal).

Even though Australia, along with many countries worldwide, has made significant progress towards gender equality in recent decades, the gender gap in the Australian workforce is still prevalent and female representation in leadership continues to be a cause for concern. Women continue to earn less than men, are less likely to advance their careers as far as men, and accumulate less retirement or superannuation savings.

Top-tier firms are reaching the targets they have set for women and revising them, with Clayton Utz CEO Rob Cutler tipping that parity could be reached by 2030. However, women are still far more likely to be promoted to partner if they are at a firm with less than 100 partners – and to get there younger. One of the smallest firms in the survey – Banki Haddock Fiora – was the only one with a ratio over 50 per cent.

Per Capita's recent research into gender equality in Australia found that a significant gender pay gap persists, even for female professionals in law and medicine. Despite their equal or higher representation at graduate levels, and equitable starting salaries, women are much less likely to advance to the highest professional levels in both law and medicine: only 33% of women (half the rate of female graduates in the profession) go on to become equity partners in law firms, and just 12% of surgeons in Australia are women. We found that this is directly attributable to the fact that it is generally Australian women who interrupt their careers, and elect to work part-time, to accommodate the needs of their families, thus impeding their career progression. 

While the Australian legal sector makes modest progress in addressing gender equity issues, as a country we have slipped from 15th in 2006 to 44th in 2020. Twenty-nine places in just 14 years (data from PerCapita). Of further concern now is that (according to the ABS) the effect of the pandemic is seeing that 11.5 percent of women have reduced their working hours as opposed to 7.5 percent of men. The Australian Lawyers Alliance suggests that "If we are to ensure that this pandemic does not set back the cause of gender equality by a generation, we must act deliberately to minimise discrimination through unintended outcomes". 

Improving gender equality builds stronger societies, economies, businesses and individuals. It boosts the productivity and performance of organisations and the economy.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has documented business case tools with a range of business case tools including organisational benefits and gender equality tips that demonstrate this.   

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