The New Zealand Law Society is releasing its Gender Equality Charter to the legal profession today.
It’s the Law Society’s response to concern about a lack of progression of women lawyers into senior positions such as partners and directors of law firms, Queen’s Counsel as well as chief legal advisers or general counsel in business and government.
Current figures show that despite women making up over 50% of over 13,000 practising lawyers, they’re woefully underrepresented at the top.
In law firms with more than one practitioner women make up 61% of the employed lawyers but just 31% of partners and directors. In the biggest 14 New Zealand law firms, women make up just under 28% of partners.
Of Queen’s Counsel appointments since 1907, 273 have been men of whom 100 are still in practice. That’s in comparison to 34 who are women of whom 23 are still in practice.
Law Society President Kathryn Beck, says if legal workplaces are serious about balance and fairness for all lawyers, adopting the Gender Equality Charter can help achieve that.
“The Charter doesn’t weigh more towards women than men. It’s about making commitments to bring equity to your workplace. It’s about ensuring there is no discrimination, that all lawyers regardless of gender are given equal opportunities at work,” she says.
Some of the Gender Equality Charter commitments include:
- Implement unconscious bias training for all lawyers and key staff,
- Conduct annual gender pay audits and take action to close any gender pay gap,
- Encourage and support flexible working for all lawyers,
- Actively work to increase gender equality and inclusion in senior legal roles,
- Report on progress against Charter commitments every two years to the Law Society.
Over 60% of law school graduates are now women.
The chair of the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel, Chris Moore, says the Charter is for all of the legal profession from sole practitioners (including barristers), smaller law firms, barristers’ chambers, and large law firms to in-house legal teams.
“The Charter has been designed so that signatories can choose the best way to meet Charter commitments according to their needs. Alongside the Charter there are guidelines to assist signatories as well as free online tools and resources on the Law Society’s website,” he says.
Kathryn Beck says she expects the Gender Equality Charter to have an impact on the recruitment process for law graduates.
“If I were a graduate, I’d be looking for my first job somewhere that presents as a current, modern, fresh thinking and diverse workplace because that is what the next generation of lawyers wants. Being a signatory to the Charter will be a strong indication that you are that organisation,” she says
The Minister for Women is hosting the launch of the Gender Equality Charter in the Grand Hall at Parliament Buildings at 12:30pm today.