b'PEOPLE| LEGAL SECTOR| 2021SUSTAINABILITY INSIGHTGENDER EQUALITY2021 AusLSA Member PerformanceOver previous years AusLSA members have made commitments and set new standards to improve the balance of opportunity for both men and women. Our 2021 results indicate that these commitments have become standard in the sector.Ninety five percent of respondents have a gender equity policy including one which is under development. This is up from 94% last year and remaining firms are implementing diversity and inclusion policies which address many issues in common with gender equality. This year 79% of firms have decided to publish their gender equality policies (up from 55 percent in 2017) signifying an increased acknowledgment of the importance of talking about these issues with staff and clients.For the last four years all reporting firms have continued to allocate the key oversight responsibility for implementing this policy to either a partner, manager or committee. There is strong evidence that leaders and leadership teams are taking greater public accountability for their firms performance on pay equity with 50% 1having Managing Partners who were WGEA Pay Equity Ambassadors. However this year there has been a growthin the number of AusLSA firms that hold the WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation, increasing from 59 percent last year to 63 percent but short of the peak of 69 percent in 2019.With these widespread commitments and programs, improvement of gender ratios of law firm partners has shown slow but steady progress. In 2016 when we commenced measuring gender representation of female partners, the ratio sat at 26.4%. By 2020 it had grown to 30 percent and this year the level has increased again to 33%.This is in comparison to an overall proportion of female lawyers amongst AusLSA members of 59%. While there is progress to be made, these results are consistent with or better than similar professions as reported by WGEA. For example, organisations in Accounting Services also have an equal representation of women across their employee base but only 23% percent are in key management personnel positions.The current gender balance in senior positions can be partially explained by the by larger proportion of junior female lawyers and the building of required experience and seniority for promotion. The rate of change is also partially governed by the rate of promotions and growth in firms which is the liquidity required to effect the change in policies. There is little doubt however that historical imbalances in equality of opportunity are also a significant factor in some firms. Continued commitments to gender equality policies and practices will continue to underpin an improvement in these numbers over time.Challenges and Opportunities There are fundamental issues that transcend these immediate COVID pressures and require ongoing attention. Female representation has now grown to 58% of the legal staff for AusLSA Members, yet they still only occupy 30% of partner positions. The role of understanding the reasons why this imbalance has occurred belongs to all members of the firm (both male and female) and must not be left to solely to managing partners or Chairs. It will take some time for each firm to understand the actual impacts on gender equality outcomes. Firstly, during times of business stress the supporting or operational roles are commonly the first to be affected by redundancies, restructures retrenchments and reductions in hours. In AusLSA law firms operational and non-professional staff are seventy-nine percent female.Secondly, the rates of promotions are likely to be impacted by commercial uncertainty. If the rates of promotions slow so will the pace for adjustment of gender balance in senior positions.Thirdly, COVID has created an increased reliance on unpaid family and community caring roles following the closure of childcare, schools and personal care services. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency found that on average women spend sixty-four percent of their working hours with no remuneration in comparison to men (thirty-six percent). The additional demands of professional and home duties created by COVID may impact disproportionately on womens wellbeing as well as professional performance and opportunity for progression.Law firms need to have approaches to deal with equality on three related fronts, 1.Managing the adverse impacts on women and their careers brought about through remote working, and balancing carer and other work like pressures through the COVID pandemic2.Addressing the emerging disparity of opportunity in the post COVID period where hybrid working may advantage those with greater ability to return to traditional ways of working and disadvantage those who still need to work flexibly 3.Supporting and improving the ongoing programs aimed at improving womens rewards, security wellbeing and prospects in each firm 24'