Although just over half the Australian population is female, gender equity remains an ongoing challenge for the legal profession. The 2011 National Profile of the profession, published by the New South Wales Law Society, confirms a gender gap, with more male than female solicitors overall, a greater proportion of young solicitors being female, a higher concentration of male solicitors in private practice, and more female than male solicitors working in government and corporate sectors.
Research reported by Australian Women Lawyers also reveals a gender gap at the Bar, with senior female barristers comprising less than 8% of all ‘silks’ practising at the independent Bar. The Law Council of Australia’s 2009 Court Appearance Survey also revealed that male barristers tend to appear in court longer than female barristers.
A range of steps can be taken to improve gender equity in the workplace. The Diversity Council of Australia recommends: improving work-life balance and flexibility, including parental leave; preventing discrimination and sexual harassment; addressing cultural and attitudinal barriers; removing gender bias in recruitment, development and promotion processes; providing role models and mentors; and setting measurable targets for women in senior positions.
Nationally, annual gender diversity reporting requirements have been introduced for listed companies under ASX listings rules and recommendations, and for particular organisations under Commonwealth equal opportunity for women in the workplace legislation.
Law firms are encouraged to adopt the Law Council of Australia’s model equitable briefing policy for female barristers and advocates. See the List of Women Barristers at the Bar Association of Queensland and the Australian Women Lawyers’ Find a Female Barrister webpage.
For further information, please see:
- Urbis, 2011 Law Society National Profile, Final Report (Law Society of New South Wales 2012)
- NSW Law Society, Thought Leadership 2001: Advancement of Women in the Profession, Report
- Law Society WA and Women Lawyers of WA, Report on the Retention of Legal Practitioners (March 1999)
- Eliquent Business Consulting, 2009 Court Appearance Survey: Beyond the Statistical Gap (Law Council of Australia, 2009)
- Australian Women Lawyers, Female silk statistics, media release, 4 September 2012
- Hutchinson and Skousgaard, Women in the Queensland Legal Workplace: A Snapshot (2008) 13(1) Deakin Law Review 37
- Gerry Neal/Griffith Law School, Summary of Doctoral Research, Women Solicitors’ Experiences of Workplace Discrimination, Flexibility and Success in Qld (2009)
- Australian Human Rights Commission, Women in Leadership
- KPMG, ASX Corporate Governance Council Principles and Recommendations on Diversity: Analysis of 31 December 2011 year end closures (2012)
- Law Society of NSW, Advancement of Women in the Profession Progress Report, June 2013
- Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission "Changing the rules: The experiences of female lawyers in Victoria" (November 2012)
For useful resources, please see: