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Women’s Day completes historic week for women lawyers

International Women’s Day completes an historic week for women who practise law, marking 30 years since the first female Queen’s Counsels were appointed, says Law Society President Kathryn Beck.

Both Dame Sian Elias and Justice Lowell Goddard were appointed New Zealand’s first women’s Queen’s Counsel on 4 March 1988.

“It’s a really significant week for women in law. Women now outnumber men in the legal profession. There’s a real feeling of momentum, but that doesn’t mean the fight for equality has slowed down; quite the opposite,” says New Zealand Law Society President, Kathryn Beck.

Ms Beck says what should be a really exciting time for women has been tarnished with serious allegations of sexual harassment occurring in legal workplaces.

“Let’s mark International Women’s Day by pledging to turn the culture of discrimination around. This must be owned by everyone working in law regardless of their gender; lawyers and non-lawyers and anyone who is part of the workplace. We know it isn’t everyone but it shouldn’t be anyone. We are much better than this and should lead by example because I know that the legal community is not the only sector with these issues,” Ms Beck says.

“There are many actions which are underway and there will be more to follow. Our objective is a direct confrontation with the culture which has nurtured and permitted some unsafe environments,” she says.

Ms Beck says the Law Society has an important role to play, both as regulator and as an organisation at the centre of the legal profession. She says the terms of reference and composition of a working group to look at the fitness of the regulatory reporting framework will be released shortly.

Since the early 1990s the number of women admitted as lawyers has exceeded men, but it’s only in the past few years that women lawyers have closed the gap.

Law Society figures show that of the 13,187 lawyers practising in New Zealand on 8 March, 6617 are women and 6570 are men.

“International Women’s Day preludes another really important development for women in law because next month the Law Society will release its Gender Equality Charter to the profession. We think this will have a big impact in addressing the current woeful numbers of women lawyers who hold senior roles in the profession, such as being partners and directors of law firms,” Ms Beck says.

The charter includes a series of voluntary commitments that the legal profession will be encouraged to sign up to.

These commitments include implementing unconscious bias training, conducting annual pay audits, supporting flexible working arrangements and collecting and sharing examples of practical approaches taken to gender equality in legal workplaces.

International Women’s Day is an annual event established by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

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