Women will outnumber men in the legal profession later this year but there is still a noticeable imbalance in women in leadership roles, New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.
“International Women’s Day today is an excellent time to call on all New Zealand lawyers to stop and ask themselves what they are doing to ensure the profession moves more quickly to equality of opportunity than it has done so far.
“Today there are just 205 more male lawyers than female, and with over 60% of new lawyers being women, there will be a majority in a few months.
“However, consider this. Women make up 48% of all lawyers working in law firms. But just 28% of the partners and directors are women. In New Zealand’s 14 largest firms women actually outnumber men. But they make up just 25% of the partners and directors. They only make up 18% of Queen’s Counsel. These are the visible leaders of the legal profession.”
Ms Beck says the Law Society is now asking all lawyers to examine their perspectives. She says unconscious bias in the workplace is seen as one of the big contributors to the current situation.
“Subtle and unconscious forms of discrimination are far more prevalent than overt forms. There is a lot of research which has shown people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism and deliberately work to behave without prejudice, yet still possess hidden preferences and stereotypes,” she says.
“The New Zealand Law Society is actively encouraging all lawyers, men and women, to examine their unconscious biases. Two weeks ago we provided a free 90-minute training session for lawyers on this. It was very pleasing that over 1,000 lawyers participated. We have decided to require all lawyers who want to be able to qualify to practise on their own to complete the training – and this is needed to become law firm partners or directors. We are also investigating how it can be embedded in law degrees.”
Ms Beck says that alongside the unconscious bias training and resources, the Law Society is developing a range of practical initiatives to address the disproportionate number of women in leadership positions.