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Increasing Aspiration For Gender Equality In The Legal Profession

Changes to keep driving improvements across the legal profession on gender equality will ensure we lock in the impressive gains and build on them some more following the latest Gender Equality Charter survey results, the New Zealand Law Society says.

"Right across the board in areas like the delivery of unconscious bias training, the use of gender pay audits and the availability of flexible working, signatories to the Gender Equality Charter have made significant progress," General Manager Member Services (Representative) Glenda Macdonald says.

"While there is still more work to do, the Gender Equality Charter is making a difference that ensures law firms work towards improving the retention and advancement of women lawyers."

First launched in 2018, the Gender Equality Charter (GEC) is aimed at improving the retention and advancement of women lawyers and contains a set of gender equality commitments for legal workplace signatories to implement.

"Part of our work is to continue to set our aspirations higher. We have worked with the New Zealand Bar Association to do just that," Ms Macdonald says.

The New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) and the New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA) have worked closely on bringing together key components of the Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy (GEEIP) into the GEC, with a new increased voluntary 50 per cent target of the work that law firms are engaging in or instructing goes to women practitioners.

"Increasing the original target for instructing women lawyers from 30 per cent to 50 per cent is more aspirational and reflects our aim at continuing to set our sights higher.

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"Other changes will make it easier for signatories to see the detail of the commitments all in one place.

"We all need to keep focused on growing and diversifying the talent pipeline. While more than 50 per cent of those who enter the profession are women, this percentage is not represented by the number of people who eventually go on to hold senior positions," Ms Mcdonald says.

Highlights from the 2022 Gender Equality Charter Survey Report include:

  • A 35 per cent increase in the delivery of unconscious bias training;
  • A 14 per cent increase in the availability of flexible working to all lawyers (99 per cent of signatories offering this to all lawyers in 2021);
  • A 25 per cent increase in the use of gender pay audits;
  • Significant increase in the review of retention and promotion practices (up 24 per cent), training and development opportunities (up 17 per cent), gender equality practices across different teams (up 13 per cent); and gender equality in senior roles (up 11 per cent);
  • A 25 per cent increase in adoption of equitable instruction and briefing practices; and
  • Seventy-four per cent of survey participants who undertook pay and gender equality reviews reported finding them worthwhile.

The Law Society wants to encourage more signatories to the Charter and monitor their progress.

"Ensuring that progress is tracked will increase the usefulness of the data that is collected and help the Law Society assess where continued action is needed," Ms Macdonald says.

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