It’s been almost one year since the New Zealand Law Society introduced the Gender Equality Charter to the legal community.
There’s been a good response with 112 signatories – including many of the largest firms in the country – committing to this important workplace initiative. We want to see 30% of the profession covered by the Charter by 12 April.
If you haven’t committed your workplace, perhaps consider why you’d want to miss out on the many long-term benefits to being a signatory.
112 signatories is the equivalent of over 2900 lawyers. These are workplaces that are striving for balance, fairness and equality for all employees.
Over the past year, you’ve told us that is the type of work environment that you want. Many of you want to see change in your current workplace culture; a conclusion evident from the compelling results published in our Workplace Environment Survey. They were damning figures – one-third of female lawyers sexually harassed during their working life and more than half of all lawyers bullied at some stage during their career. Perhaps it’s not surprising that one third of people want culture change in the legal community?
The Gender Equality Charter complements the work being done by the Culture Change Taskforce, which is addressing the issues starkly identified by the survey. If you’re serious about being part of a culture change in the legal profession, the Charter is a tool that will help drive and achieve that.
The commitments of the Charter are challenging because they’re asking you to take a thorough look at every part of your workplace and how it operates.
Take for example the requirement to implement ‘unconscious bias’ training. No-one wants to be confronted with a realisation that they may hold certain biases. But knowledge is power and working through these issues, including finding solutions to them, can only have a positive influence on your workplace environment.
Over 60% of our law school graduates are women, which might suggest to some that the Gender Equality Charter is there only to serve the needs of women who practise law. But the Charter is about creating inclusive workplace cultures for all genders. It’s about saying that this lawyer will be afforded the same opportunities and professional development as their colleague.
For the Gender Equality Charter to become a benchmark, support from the entire profession is needed. While I know that will not happen overnight, it is the ultimate goal that we will continue to strive for.
Next month I step down as president and Tiana Epati takes the reins as the 31st elected president from 10 April. Much of what we set in play last year will continue to develop under her leadership, along with many other new initiatives. My focus will shift to chairing the Culture Change Taskforce.
Another significant event this year is that we celebrate the 150th year of the Law Society. It’s a time to reflect on how we practise law, to celebrate our professional successes but also to look out for each other in the workplace. This can be a year of much progress for the legal profession. For that to happen we all must contribute. A good start is committing to the Gender Equality Charter.
President, New Zealand Law Society.