Deb Anderson

Deb Anderson

Without mentioning your job title, how would you describe what it is you do now?

I am passionate about Corporate Governance and after 16 years working for an ASX Listed Financial Services entity I decided the time was right for a new challenge and together with a friend we set up a boutique corporate governance advisory firm in 2019. I undertook the Legal Practice Course in February and am now the proud holder of a Principal Practicing Certificate for the first time, albeit it later in life, that makes is all the more meaningful. 2020 is looking very exciting as we take on the challenge of making a success of our new business. I am also a proud Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunt and Niece and take pride in volunteering to two charities close to my heart, as well as importantly finding balance through exercise and meditation.

What was your main driver to enter the legal industry?

I started out as a legal secretary and then travelled overseas and worked as a para legal, I found the work interesting and challenging, each client is unique and I was inspired to complete my law degree. I find the legal profession to be rewarding and inspirational. We are in privileged position to find solutions for our clients legal dilemmas.

What are the first three words you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity’?

Inclusiveness, challenge, innovation.

What do you think it will take to develop truly diverse thinking within the legal industry?

The tendency, particularly in relation to board representation is focussed on gender diversity but diversity is so much more than gender. The more diverse the mix in the legal industry, the greater the ideas that can be generated. It is important to challenge the status quo. With a new generation of graduates, brings new ideas and diversity of thinking. With social media and e-commerce, clients are challenging the delivery of legal services. Diverse thinking encourages innovation. Listening to the ideas of others and promoting an open culture are also important in developing truly diverse thinking.

Deb is Co-Founder and Corporate Governance Consultant at 3YS Owls. 

The gender pay gap and the reluctance to ‘own’ it

Whichever variation of the gender pay gap you’ve heard of – industry gaps, role gaps, or the worrying national averages – and whichever statistic you’ve been quoted, there’s no escaping that many women are being paid less than their male counterparts.

While it has been a topic of discussion for a long time, the legal profession’s gender pay gap is narrowing at a snail’s pace, and there appears to be a reluctance to ‘own’ the problem and be part of the solution.

Have we created an ‘illusion of progression’?

McCullough Robertson Managing Partner Kristen Podagiel reflected on a recent managing partners’ lunch where she raised the topic of the gender pay gap.

“I put forward a discussion point around the gender pay gap that still exists within the legal industry, mentioned some of the sticky issues we’re dealing with, and some of the initiatives we’re trialling,” Ms Podagiel said.

“Of the 20 firms represented at that lunch, 17 said they did not have a gender pay gap problem.

“We know from industry statistics that most likely every one of the firms in that room has a pay gap issue. Now they either don’t understand the data or they’re intentionally sticking their heads in the sand,” she said.

Sometimes when we discuss an issue over an extended period, regardless of the topic’s severity or importance, some impact can be lost. While some become immune to the detail, others fall victim to the ‘illusion of progression’ – the feeling that we’ve been talking about something for so long that we must have made some headway by now.

The current state of play

The Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has been collecting data on gender equality factors for over five years, and the findings are still alarming. The latest data from WGEA identifies that the legal services sector has an average gender pay gap of 26.2 per cent, and while this has narrowed from 35.6 per cent in 2014, there is still a long way to go to reach pay parity.

While these figures are industry averages and reflect, to some extent, the trend of women occupying a larger proportion of junior and administrative roles in professional services, there still remains a discrepancy when looking at role-specific data. In the legal profession, male Senior Managers are paid on average 9.1 per cent more than female Senior Managers, and the gap widens for Executive and General Managers – with men earning on average 15.1 per cent more than their female counterparts.[1]

Taking a targeted approach

While the gender pay gap is influenced by an interrelated web of work, family and societal factors, there remains a significant role for organisations to play in ensuring their structures, processes and policies address the factors which influence the gender pay gap.

McCullough Robertson HR Director Louise Ferris noted the targeted approach her organisation is taking to reduce pay inequality.

“While we as an organisation cannot address all the factors influencing the gender pay gap, WGEA has told us that there are three ‘peak points’ during a person’s career where the gender pay gap may be accelerated: at times of recruitment, during salary reviews and after periods of parental leave,” Ms Ferris said.

“So, we have decided to take a strategic approach and focus our efforts on these three areas.

“We have made the decision to contribute additional superannuation to people returning to work after parental leave, introduce twice-yearly systemised salary and bonus reviews, and what I’m really proud of is that we have designed and introduced a new recruiting practice called ‘black boxing’.

“While many organisations are trialling recruitment practices like the use of ‘blind CVs’ and creating more gender-neutral role descriptions, we have been trialling a process called ‘black boxing’ where we assess salary expectation information separately from the applicants themselves.

“When we receive applications, one decision maker (or group of decision makers) reviews the salary expectation information in isolation and recommends a standard salary bracket for the role. Another decision maker (or group of decision makers) then conducts the interviews and recommends the most suitable person against the role description.

“Keeping the salary discussion separate from the applicant suitability discussion aims to reduce biases, correct previously embedded pay inequalities and remove the strength of an individual’s salary negotiation skills from the equation. The focus is simply on getting the best person for the role,” Ms Ferris said.

Almost a year on from implementing the ‘black boxing’ process, Ms Ferris noted the effects are starting to be seen across the organisation.

“We’re beginning to notice fewer salary corrections at bi-annual reviews, as unequal salaries are being corrected at the point of recruitment. It has also been a good education exercise for our lawyers and other staff who have been involved in the hiring process as we continue to better understand how structural organisational changes can improve diversity,” Ms Ferris said.

“While we don’t expect any process to be perfect, to work for every organisation, or to solve the gender pay gap overnight, it’s only through firms taking ownership of the issue and showing a willingness to take a different approach, that we can maintain momentum for the gender pay gap movement, keep discussion fresh and continue to champion diversity in our workplaces.”

[1] https://data.wgea.gov.au/comparison/?id1=115&id2=115#pay_equity_content

Kathryn Pacey

Kathryn Pacey

Without mentioning your job title, how would you describe what it is you do now?

I specialise in environment and planning law. I work on approvals strategies and environmental assessments for major infrastructure and resources projects, help clients manage environmental incidents and advise on a range of legislative and policy issues.

What was your main driver to enter the legal industry?

Total ignorance. I had a vague notion that I wanted to combine environmental science with accountability, and studied science and law. Fortunately with the support of a number of mentors, project teams and clients, I found what I wanted to do.

What are the first three words you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity’?

Ideas, individuality, variety.

What do you think it will take to develop truly diverse thinking within the legal industry?

As lawyers our job is to find solutions. The best solutions are developed through diversity in thinking, experience, relationships and perspective.

Clients demanding better and more innovative solutions will drive the need for truly diverse thinking.

Kathryn is a Partner at Clayton Utz.

The myth of the workplace ‘sisterhood’ and why it may do more harm than good

For many women working in traditionally male-dominated industries, the ‘sisterhood’ represents an unbreakable bond between female colleagues, sharing in challenges and celebrating each other’s successes. But to effectively progress the representation and status of women in the legal profession, what value is there in alienating the men in the room?

There is little point in sidelining men while trying to improve the status of women, as both genders are responsible for, and capable of, addressing the core issues that hinder the progression of women.

An outdated mode

Once characterised by women-only seminars, workshops and programs, the equality agenda has shifted in recent times, with many questioning the effectiveness of a female-only driven approach. While there will always be a place for ‘girl power’, relying solely on women championing women has clear limitations, and these activities mirror much of the exclusionary behaviour that has hindered diversity in the first place.

The Honourable Justice Sarah Derrington, Federal Court judge and President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, recently spoke on the outdated mode of the ‘sisterhood’.

“It is really important that we (women) have some time on our own to share the issues that we may not want to discuss with male colleagues,” Justice Derrington said.

“But I think we’ve got to get rid of this myth of the sisterhood. There’s no reason why all men have to be best friends and there’s no reason why all women have to be best friends. Once you are in a role or position, in whichever type of environment it is, we’re all in it together.”

Leadership without the gender-lens

As with progressing any agenda, buy in from senior leaders is key – and this is where the ‘sisterhood’ model comes up short. While the proportion of male to female solicitors is roughly even,[1] only 28.5% of partners in Australian law firms are women.[2]

Justice Derrington noted the importance of leaders taking an active role in supporting the women in their organisations, and but also the benefit of extending this support to men.

“I like to treat the women who are in my sphere of influence as I would my daughters… if I have had any sort of responsibility for another woman – whether they were my students, employees or colleagues – I’d like to think that I have given them the same amount of attention that I would give to my daughters,” Justice Derrington said.

“Similarly though, I want young men to have the same opportunities and attention that I would give to my son, and I don’t want my son excluded from the opportunities that he would otherwise have had available to him, simply because we’ve now decided that somehow the men have had it much easier than the women.

“It’s important we remember that we can do a lot of damage to the mental health of our sons by some of these conversations.”

A recent study by the Australian Men’s Health Forum found that nearly half of all male respondents believed gender equality strategies in the workplace did not take them into account and that they felt excluded from measures to improve gender equality.[3] This can only disincentivize the men in our workplaces from taking an active approach in supporting both the men and women around them.

Celebrating women – a simple, but important mechanism

At our recent event Year 101: Women in law – the next 100 years, McCullough Robertson Managing Partner Kristen Podagiel was asked “What is one thing you would ask of men to help progress the status of women in the legal profession over the next 100 years?”. Ms Podagiel responded, “I’d ask men to celebrate loudly the wonderful females around them”.

“I know that the males in my organisation have a lot of respect for the females around them, so celebrate their successes. Don’t let these things go unsaid – tell women when they’re excelling at something, when they’re going above and beyond and when they’re performing well,” Ms Podagiel said.

While seemingly simple, the practice of celebrating women addresses a number of social and cultural factors working against the success of women in professional settings.

By virtue of cultural norms and inherited prejudices, women more so than men, are likely to encounter ‘imposter syndrome’ – the feeling that you’re a fraud and came to success only by accident or chance. These deeply rooted insecurities plague even the most successful women, with Pulitzer Prize nominee Maya Angelou famously admitting, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”[4]

Another challenge presented by traditionally male-dominated industries is in direct contradiction to the ‘sisterhood’ mentality – the phenomenon of ‘scarcity threat’. Some organisations have observed that when women believe that leadership roles available to them within an organisation are scarce, competition ensues.[5] This may result in a subconscious preference for women to hinder the progression of other women – essentially sabotaging an organisation’s diversity efforts from the inside out. But as soon as the feeling of scarcity is removed, this subconscious motivation subsides.

By highlighting the talents and celebrating the achievements of women, we create supportive environments where we can all thrive. Celebrating the women around us can be as simple as using “yes and” statements to highlight credit when it’s due, for example “Yes Amanda’s brief hit the mark, and Sophie’s client management helped close the deal”, but can also extend to greater celebrations such as nominating individuals for team, firm and industry awards.

In short as noted by Justice Derrington, “we are all in it together” and we should celebrate the wonderful men and women who contribute to the constantly evolving legal industry as we strive for diversity of gender, and of thought.

[1] https://www.lawsociety.com.au/advocacy-and-resources/advancement-of-women/gender-statistics

[2] https://www.afr.com/business/professional-services/why-women-lawyers-quit-the-partnership-track-20190702-p523ix

[3] https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/amhf/pages/196/attachments/original/1538865708/From-Girls-to-Men.pdf?1538865708

[4] https://thriveglobal.com/stories/the-impostor-syndrome-still-shadows-women/

[5] https://blueswitchconsulting.com/news/2017/9/25/smashing-the-sisterhood-ceiling

Kate Clark

Kate Clark

Without mentioning your job title, how would you describe what it is you do now?

I bring people in conflict together to have respectful, structured and restorative dialogue about disputes and the impacts / harms / needs that relate to them. 

What was your main driver to enter the legal industry?

I have never been capable of being a bystander. If something is happening and I hold a concern that it is not right I will be that annoying person who stands up and causes a fuss. Becoming a lawyer allowed me to do that for a profession. 

What are the first three words you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity’?

Heard, voices, views.

What do you think it will take to develop truly diverse thinking 

within the legal industry?

A shift in culture. Intentional inclusion. Some people stepping back and giving others a turn.

Kate is Legal Director at Clark & Associates Mediation Services.

Maddy Harrington

Maddy Harrington

Without mentioning your job title, how would you describe what it is you do now?

At work I spend my days not only drafting and reviewing legal agreements and contracts on behalf of the University, but am also a staunch advocate for LGBTI acceptance and inclusion (especially for those who are transgender such as myself).

I am the Chair of the University’s Pride Committee, and am passionate about ensuring that Griffith is a safe place to work and study for people of all backgrounds. I believe that one can’t be what they can’t see, and so I use my visibility as an openly transgender woman to show (both in my personal life and at work) that being in the law is not off limits to people of transgender experience, and that being transgender isn’t a life sentence as many make it out to be.

In the community, I’m a volunteer with Out for Australia, one of Australia’s largest organisations for LGBTI professionals.

What was your main driver to enter the legal industry?

I had always had a passion for politics, and I believed that to make the most effective change, politicians needed to have a deep understanding of law. When I started my degree back in New Zealand in 2013, I was doing a double degree of law and political science. After trying my hand at politics at University I decided that it wasn’t for me, and instead threw myself into my legal studies more.

To this day I’ve always viewed the law, and the wider legal industry, as having the ability to drive change, not only in political, but also social, circles and I ensure that as much as possible, that flows into my work.  

What are the first three words you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity’?

Inclusion, acceptance and future.

What do you think it will take to develop truly diverse thinking within the legal industry?

Traditionally, the legal industry has not been known for its diversity – however, I believe that this is slowly beginning to change, and that we can achieve diverse thinking through the adoption of some simple very processes.

Most importantly, I believe that diverse thinking will come as a natural consequence of ensuring that we consult widely and have people with characteristics and experiences (different from the “norm”) in positions of influence. This may be through having different factors to the majority in terms of gender, ethnicity or, different cultural backgrounds, ages, disability, or sexuality/gender identity. Importantly however, the legal industry must ensure that their hiring practices fully support people from all of these backgrounds and don’t treat them in tokenistic ways.

Maddy is a Solicitor at Griffith University (In-House Legal).