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OWLS continues promoting gender diversity, leadership and equity across the profession

05 October 2018 - By Val Farrow

The Otago Women Lawyers’ Society (OWLS) has long worked to promote gender diversity, leadership and equity across the profession. The more recently highlighted issues relating to bullying, sexual harassment and negative workplace environments are not new to us.

Logo of the Otago Women Lawyers Society

This year, in response to the New Zealand Law Society’s Legal Workplace Environment Survey, we undertook to present our members with positive and practical tools to enable them to effect change within their workplace. Our Working Wellness Series took a holistic approach to the issues, recognising that a whole person response is required to counter the effects of stress, bullying and the other negative features of our professional lives.

The responsibility to lead culture change should never rest on those who are negatively affected by that culture. However, developing strong personal resilience can be a crucial protective factor. With resilience we are better able to guard against the external workplace stressors imposed upon us, whatever they might be.

Three workshops

We were pleased to host three workshops over July and August which considered resilience from different but interconnected perspectives.

Tracey Loughran of Flourish Naturopathy spoke on managing stress through nutritional health and wellbeing. Lawyers often struggle to prioritise personal wellness. Tracey reminded us of the physical influence of stress on our brains and our bodies. She provided us with some simple strategies to promote health and consequentially strengthen resilience.

Clinical psychologist and efficiency expert, Nicola Brown, presented an interactive workshop combatting overwhelm in the workplace, by showing us how to build resilience and improving efficiency by recognising the personal and organisational obstacles that create stress.

Ms Brown encouraged us to identify and understand those obstacles, to utilise clear and assertive communication to implement change, and to prioritise personal wellbeing, which inevitably feeds into productivity and vice versa.

Bell Murphy from the Women’s Self Defence Network – Wāhine Toā, presented our final workshop addressing bullying and sexual harassment issues specifically.

With a focus on positive verbal assertiveness and a few simple but very effective physical self-defence responses, Ms Murphy provided us with strategies to employ against unwanted verbal and non-verbal communications relevant to our legal workplace environments.

The Legal Workplace Environment Survey had three clearly defined objectives:

  • To provide a measure of general workplace wellbeing in the legal workplace;
  • To establish the prevalence and characteristics of sexual harassment in the legal workplace;
  • To establish the prevalence and characteristics of bullying in the legal workplace.

We all know that the results reflect poorly on our profession and serious systemic change is required if we are to lift ourselves out of this collective state of crisis. Change must occur at all levels.

Small, positive interventions can be powerful mechanisms to effect change. Our hope is that by utilising some effective personal strategies around health, wellbeing and resilience, we can not only act protectively but also influence that change.


Val Farrow val@polsonmcmillan.co.nz is an Associate at Polson McMillan in Dunedin. She also sits on the OWLS’s CPD sub-committee.

Last updated on the 5th October 2018