While some might dismiss the retention and advancement of women in the profession as a ‘women’s issue’ or something that does not affect them or their practice, the reality is this is a serious issue for the profession as a whole.
The key to success for any firm, company or even country is the ability to attract, develop and retain the best talent. Talent shortages are a real problem both internationally and within New Zealand. In its 2013 report ‘Talent Edge New Zealand – Worrisome Gaps’ Deloitte suggest that 83% of organisations reported that they were experiencing talent shortages which are impacting on business results.
With women making up more than half of those entering the legal profession it is essential that this talent pool is not wasted. In the words of the World Economic Forum ‘maximising access to female talent is a strategic imperative for business’. Any firm or organisation not aiming for gender-diverse leadership is limiting its pool of available talent and also missing out on clear business benefits.
Greater gender diversity in the legal profession has proven financial and strategic benefits. There is mounting evidence that companies with a gender balance, particularly in governance and leadership roles, perform better both organisationally and financially. In the Ministry of Women’s Affairs 2013 paper ‘Realising the opportunity: Addressing New Zealand’s leadership pipeline by attracting and retaining talented women’ it is suggested that gender balanced leadership can bring great dividends, including diversity of thought; better decision making, and insights into customer needs and critical markets; improved customer satisfaction and increased competitive advantage. Diversity in all respects brings a wider range of views, experiences and innovative solutions which is beneficial for business, particularly for clients.
Additionally, firms and other organisations make substantial investments in their human capital. The cost of recruitment, education and training of employees is significant and will be wasted if they are not able to retain those employees they have invested heavily in. In a 2013 report by Ernst & Young ‘Untapped opportunity: The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential’ the cost of low female workforce participation in Australia is quantified. This report estimates that Australia is losing over $8 billion each year from undergraduate and postgraduate women who do not enter the workforce. While this is Australian data, similar wastage of educational investment is undoubtedly experienced in New Zealand and within the New Zealand legal profession.