Thomson Reuters has launched a new diversity program called Change Makers in Australia, a global initiative that brings together key business leaders to make commitments and take action to improve the gender balance at the top of organisations. The initiative was launched in the Australian market at Thomson Reuters Legal’s Women in Legal event, held in Sydney on 5 May 2017.
Diversity is important for competitive advantage: Fortune 500 companies with higher representations of women on the board achieve notably stronger-than-average financial performance than those with fewer women.
Research by the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW has shown that women are woefully under-represented at leadership levels in law firms despite being equally represented at the senior associate level. The data shows that the average female partnership representation sits at 25 per cent; female equity partner representation sits even lower at 18 per cent.
Speaking at the Change Makers launch event, Jackie Rhodes, Managing Director, Thomson Reuters Legal Australia and New Zealand, said, “The Australian legal profession is inching its way towards gender equality. These numbers show that there is no shortage of talented female lawyers; we just have to focus on making sure women are retained and promoted to leadership roles.”
Thomson Reuters Legal also conducted a survey of its own legal customer base. A majority of respondents, across women and men, felt that their organisation genuinely cared about the promotion and support of women. Also, a majority of respondents, over 70 per cent, acknowledged that their organisation allowed for, or encouraged, flexible work options.
Jackie Rhodes said, “One of the most divisive questions was: Can you identify any male champions of gender diversity within your organisation, either in an official or unofficial diversity position? Many male respondents queried the premise of male champions, suggesting capable women shouldn’t need male champions to advance, and the suggestion is patronising and reinforces stereotypes. However, women called out their frustrations in trying to open the eyes of their male colleagues, who seem baffled that women would be treated differently than men.”
The Change Makers program focuses less on making the business case for diversity, since this has already been proven, and more on tangible efforts that law firms can make to achieve that diversity.
The Thomson Reuters Legal survey revealed that more women than men rated their organisation as “poor” or “very poor” for diversity and inclusion (21 per cent compared with 11 per cent). More men than women rated their organisation as “very good” to “excellent” for diversity and inclusion (59 per cent compared with 39 per cent).
At the Change Makers launch, leaders from some of Australia’s leading law firms came together to discuss how they can improve female representation in senior leadership ranks.
Sue Kench, Chief Executive Partner, King & Wood Mallesons, said, “Diversity is business critical. At KWM diversity and inclusion are integral elements of our business strategy, culture and values. We have found that by supporting and enhancing our diverse workforce through a number of tailored initiatives, we are fostering a broad range of views, experiences and ways of working – thereby strengthening the quality of our business.”
Michelle Dixon, Chief Executive Officer, Maddocks, said, “Women can’t necessarily see the pathways to success in firms, so it’s important to have female partners to encourage others. One of the most important ways to begin moving towards gender diversity is to offer a transparent, visible path for women in the firm, including making sure they have the knowledge they need to be promoted. This type of change has to be driven culturally from the top.”
Hiroshi Narushima, partner, Gilbert + Tobin, said, “Change Makers is an important program that focuses on driving individual accountability at a senior level for female advancement. There also needs to be recognition of the competing demands between work and home life and new ways to support our lawyers in meeting those demands. That’s why we need to better integrate technology solutions and legal project managers as ways to accommodate flexible work arrangements, for example, so that talented lawyers don’t feel that they face a choice between family and advancing their careers.”
This lunch was the first of a series of Thomson Reuters Change Makers events during 2017.