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White Camelia award for Portia

09 October 2018

Portia (formerly Ebborn Law) Principal Lawyer Erin Ebborn is pictured with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy after receiving a White Camelia award.

The awards celebrate organisational commitment to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a UN Women and UN Global Compact initiative which encourages gender equality in the workplace.

White camelia award

New Zealand WEPS committee chair Vicky Mee says they were impressed by Portia’s incorporation of the WEPs principles into their business practice, and their valuable work in the community to promote gender equality.

In her acceptance speech, Ms Ebborn said the firm’s new Portia brand draws heavily upon Shakespeare’s character in The Merchant of Venice: a young, passionate and intelligent lady who must disguise herself as a man to enter a courtroom and prevent a terrible tragedy.

The new name is also a nod to the ‘urgent portals’ installed in a number of Women’s Refuges around the country. This enables lawyers to deliver a crisis service into parts of the country that struggle with legal aid provision. The video-enabled system means that women who have experienced family violence can remain in the safety and comfort of the refuge, and it significantly frees-up the time of refuge staff.

Portia has undertaken 152 domestic violence matters so far this year, an average of one per working day. The system provides a 15-minute turnaround to the refuge when they ask for an urgent appointment, with the aim of having the protection order application made within 48 hours.

“We have signed the UNWEPs charter and have proudly published this fact on our website. We also talk about our involvement in WEPs often at public meetings, training and when we interview new staff,” Ms Ebborn says.

“We have adopted a workplace culture and ethic that attempts to address areas that traditionally create a power imbalance. These include how we hire, hours and days of work, place of work and career pathways.

“We provide professional supervision – where a staff member meets with a counsellor or clinical psychologist to debrief on a regular basis, to help manage stress – not only to our lawyers but to all staff members, in recognition that we all share the emotional impact of working with traumatic situations.”

For several years the firm has had a formal policy of zero tolerance towards gender-based violence and harassment, sexual harassment and workplace bullying. All staff must sign a code of conduct, which specifically addresses these issues. It also binds the CEO to a commitment that the code will be upheld. Training is provided to every staff member when they start around their ability to speak up and to feel confident to deal with any negativity – especially any passive-aggressive behaviour (which can often be the seed for bullying or harassment).

Staff can speak to any of the management team if they have concerns, and have the option to seek external advice through professional supervision. When a new staff member starts work, on the first day, they have morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea each with three other staff members of differing roles and experience so they can get a ‘feel’ for the culture of the organisation. Ms Ebborn says this encourages openness and trust in communication and shows management is not afraid for people to speak truth to power.

Other programmes, not specifically targeted at women, assist in empowering women in the workplace. This includes the adoption of the Practising Well programme of the New Zealand Law Society at a strategic level. Portia has a health and wellbeing champion who reports directly to the management team, and the principal lawyer is the wellbeing sponsor at senior management level.

Last updated on the 9th October 2018