A report, titled Advancement of Women in Law Firms: Best Practice, on the findings of a pilot research project undertaken by Professor Nan Seuffert, Director of the Legal Intersections Research Centre (LIRC), and Dr Trish Mundy, LIRC member and Senior Lecturer within the School of Law at the University of Wollongong (UOW), and conducted in partnership with the Women Lawyers’ Association of New South Wales (WLANSW), was launched recently in Sydney.
The pilot project investigates current best practices operating within national law firms in Australia that support women lawyers in their advancement to partnership and other leadership positions. Launched by the Honourable Acting Justice Jane Matthews AO, patron of WLANSW and Visiting Professorial Fellow in the LIRC, the project responds to the significant under-representation of women in senior positions within the legal profession, and their higher rates of attrition.
This study reveals that four of the top-achieving national law firms in Australia on gender equity criteria are engaging with many of the best practice initiatives for diversity and inclusion recommended by the current national and international research and scholarship. These best practice initiatives include: a commitment by leaders at the top of the firms; a focus on inclusive cultures; the introduction of retention strategies; professional development opportunities; mentoring; affinity groups; flexible work policies; engagement in evaluation and self-assessment processes; and, in some instances, providing specialised administrative support and the implementation of targets. What is apparent, however, is that the current best practices have yet to achieve significant advancement of women, or to break through the glass ceilings that continue to operate for women in large Australian law firms.
There are plans for the findings of this study to feed into a larger collaborative project, which will respond to calls for research done in partnership between academics, professional bodies and law firms. It will focus on producing new models for partnership that value all competencies necessary for law firm success in the 21st century, for reaching diversity goals, equity and justice, and for shifting firm culture consistent with these changes.
A full copy of the report can be found here