Work to dye for
Sandra Rawlins has taken legal action against her ex-employers, real estate firm Capital Title, for sacking her because she had grey hair and refused to adopt a more ‘upscale image’ (The Age, 12 July 2011). Her hair began to turn grey when she was in her early twenties and she proudly proclaimed, ‘This is who I am’. Capital Title dismissed her allegations of discrimination and Chief Executive Bill Shaddock told the Houston Chronicle, ‘I’d hire a 150-year old individual if they were worthy.’ Well, yes, Bill, but conveniently for you there are not a lot of 150-year olds currently seeking work in yours or anyone else’s line of business.
There’s a ladder in my stocking
Michael Moore has published a two-part article in the Wisconsin Lawyer (v 84, no 7, July 2011) on work conditions for women lawyers. He notes that the need to find alternate paths and flexible work arrangements to help women succeed as lawyers was identified by Felice Schwartz in 1989. Despite the fact that working in the law is still a tightrope act, as women lawyers try to balance work obligations with having a life, it seems the glass ceiling remains unshattered. Moore notes that, at the 2011 Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Economy Conference, flexible working arrangements for women were identified as a top priority. A lattice structure was suggested to replace the traditional ladder structure and law firms were urged to restructure to make rewards available for collaboration and team work which were identified as working styles more prominent among women lawyers.
Law for Women in the Land of Oz
Angela Priestley writes, ‘True gender diversity across the legal profession could pay dividends for Australian business, politics and the community as a whole’ (Lawyers Weekly, 10 March 2011). Noting that so many of Australia’s successful women on boards, in government and business have come from legal backgrounds (including one Prime Minister and a Deputy Opposition leader) she argues the legal profession offers a pipeline of women with senior legal experience who frequently apply their skills to alternate fields later on. She also notes, ‘Unfortunately that pipeline is narrow and still not dramatically widening despite the gender diversity initiatives of law firms and despite the fact a number of law firms were amongst the 98 organisations declared by EOWA as being “Employers of Choice” for women’.
Just 18 per cent of partnership appointments at 33 of Australia’s largest law firms were female in 2010 and in commercial law firms in Australia, women account for 15 per cent of partners. Again the problems are around lack of work flexibility associated with leaving the workforce to have children, lack of part-time work and flexible hours and lower paid and lesser standard of work available to part-timers.
Mary-Anne Ryan, President of Australian Women Lawyers, is quoted as saying, ‘Women shouldn’t be penalised for producing the next generation, why can’t we think in advance and plan for job-sharing, plan for restructuring, plans for days working at home or in the evenings.’ In urging law firms to offer more support to women lawyers, NSW Women Lawyers President Rebecca Barry said, ‘I am not referring to mere encouragement. I am talking about the practicalities around maternity leave, equal pay and support structures such as widespread mentoring.’
In Victoria a review of the Child Safety Commissioner’s role has heard that a truly independent children’s commissioner is required and there should be a community visitor scheme to investigate abuses of children in out-of-home care (The Age, 16 July 2011). The current Commissioner Bernie Geary has identified a need for the visitors to ‘meet directly with children in care, listen to their concerns and report back both on what is working well within the care system and what needs to be improved.’
ISA WAUGHNOUT, CRYSTAL SEE-LING and DI VERSITY are feminist lawyers.