A Wellington law firm that specialises in providing expertise on legal issues that affect Māori, including Treaty of Waitangi claims and business development, signed the Gender Equality Charter this week.
Kahui Legal is the 87th legal workplace to sign the charter, which they did at a traditional Māori ceremony on Tuesday.
A delegation led by New Zealand Law Society President, Kathryn Beck was formally welcomed into the offices of the law firm by representatives of Kahui Legal with a karanga, followed by a waiata. The Law Society delegation also sung a waiata in reply before the formal proceedings took place such as the signing of the Gender Equality Charter document, which had been translated into Māori, by request from the law firm.
After the ceremony, Kahui Legal Partner Kiri Tahana explained what Gender Equality means to her.
“To me gender equality is part of diversity and recognition of who we are as people. That’s all aspects of who we are as individual people. It’s our culture, sexual orientation, socio economic status, our family background. What’s important to us at Kahui Legal is creating an environment where Māori lawyers can practise in a way that recognises and supports their culture. I think it’s really important that we are now acknowledging publically that it requires us to also be conscious of what we are doing for our wahine (women) and our whanau (extended family). For me gender equality is about whanaungatanga or working as a whanau,” she says.
Ms Tahana says creating a culture of equality is not something it can do alone and she views becoming a signatory to the Gender Equality Charter as a partnership with the Law Society.
As part of its commitment to the Gender Equality Charter, Kahui Legal has also introduced an extended paid parental leave policy to their workplace, meaning employees who have new born or adopted new born children, will get an extra 6 weeks leave.
“It’s a commitment to our wahine but to all of our people. It’s a policy for all parents, not just women. Men can access it too. It acknowledges that during that time in your life when your children are very young, you will have that financial support.”
One of the big criticisms of taking parental leave from any workplace is that it could have an impact on your career and limit opportunities for progression.
“People will often assume, we (women) want to have children so that means we want to step back. Yes we want to be with our children but we also want to be recognised and given opportunities in our profession. We don’t want to be overlooked,” she says.
Kiri Tahana has been practising law for about 20 years, and believes many law firms need to change their business models to recognise the different value people bring to the table and that means not just financial value.
“When I had my first child, I felt that the only way I could be the parent I wanted to be, was to leave private practice. I don’t want other women to feel that way. I think it’s important that we create an environment with leadership opportunities for women, regardless of whether they have children or choose not to,” she says.
And while on the outside, it appears Kiri Tahana’s career has soared because she is a law firm partner, she says it has had plenty of personal challenges on the way up.
“It took me 20 years to become a partner. I’ve always tried to have a career on my terms. I’ve tried to measure success on what’s important to me and my family. I think that has meant it has taken longer for me to get to this position. Not everybody wants to be a partner and I even questioned it at an earlier point in my career. For me, I need to believe in something enough to want to put in the work to achieve it and with Kahui Legal, that’s how I feel. I believe in what we are doing for our people but I do believe it has to be just as accessible for wahine to be in the partnership as it is for men,” she says.
Ms Tahana says there are inherent biases in many business models and Kahui Legal will go through the process of measuring the firm against the commitments of the Gender Equality Charter.
“We’ll do unconscious bias training. We’ll look at pay equity. We’ve already started this journey. We’ve acknowledged that wellness is important for our lawyers and support staff. We’ve been looking at how we manage our work and monitoring the work load on people. It’s about working as a team. It requires a different way of thinking and we are absolutely up for the challenge. It won’t be easy,” she says.