The high number of female partners has been promoted by the firm’s Women’s Law section which gives clients the option of choosing a female lawyer, sponsors women-focused events and runs internal and external mentoring programs for women. Around 25 to 30 per cent of the firm’s employees participate in flexible working conditions including part-time hours, job sharing and work from home days. Maurice Blackburn’s Cultural Diversity Committee has developed a Reconciliation Action Plan to increase employment opportunities for indigenous Australians as well as a staff guide on religious and spiritual diversity. The firm recently launched an LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) Network to ensure LGBTI employees are supported to come out in the workplace if they choose. (See Leanne Mezrani, Lawyers Weekly, 30 October 2014.)
Please Don’t Leave
There are still significant gaps in diversity in more senior roles in the legal profession in Australia and the Law Council notes: ‘Although women are graduating with law degrees and entering legal careers at higher rates than men, significantly fewer women continue into senior positions within the legal profession.’
The Law Council of Australia engaged Urbis to undertake a national research study into why the attrition rate is so high for women lawyers. The research also examined the qualitative reasons behind these trends.The survey was conducted throughout Australia, and included men and women who are current practising lawyers; lawyers who have never practised; and lawyers no longer practising. The resulting Report includes recommendations for legal associations and law practices, with practical measures and strategies to address the causes of high attrition rates among women lawyers, and to re-engage with those who have left the profession. Strategies are directed at different cohorts of women lawyers, including those working in small, medium and large firms, women in mid- and later-stages of their careers, women barristers and those women who have left private practice. The Report can be found on The Law Council’s web site.
Surrogacy – Not for Sweden
The Swedish Women’s Lobby (‘SWL’) states its strong opposition to surrogate motherhood in Surrogacy: A Global Trade in Women’s Bodies. SWL’s view is that surrogacy is a trade which commercialises and exploits women’s bodies and is a threat to women’s basic human rights and bodily integrity. Surrogacy is not legal in Sweden but, in common with many other countries, including Australia, there is no legislation controlling nationals engaging the use of surrogates in countries such as Thailand and India. Debate in Sweden will soon result in a decision on whether surrogacy should be legalised. The Swedish Medical-Ethical Council has, by a majority vote, declared its support for legal altruistic surrogate motherhood in Sweden and SWL has responded by expressing concerns about ‘an unproblematic understanding of altruistic surrogacy, as well as the fact that the Ministry of Justice is handling the investigation.’ They point to a lack of a women’s human rights perspective.
SWL considers the issue of surrogacy ‘has been treated within the discourse of reproductive rights and the means of childless parents to have a baby, when the human rights perspective is the only plausible [position] in dealing with this issue. We find that the current investigation in Sweden is being issued on the wrong grounds and that the set of voices that are asking for an investigation are lacking a human rights perspective.’ The policy paper then concludes, ‘We therefore call on the Swedish government to forbid surrogacy motherhood,’ (see Bridget Crawford, Feminist Law Professors, 27 October 2014).
Foreign Minister Does it Her Way, on Her Own
Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister has declared she is not a feminist and does not see the relevance of feminism these days. Hasn’t she noticed that she is the only woman in Tony Abbott’s conservative government Cabinet? Perhaps her lack of understanding of feminist values is the very reason she is the lone wolf in the Ministry? Come on, Julie, you didn’t get there on your own but you will stay on your own if you fail to understand that the principles of feminism, especially equality before the law, are every bit as relevant today as they have ever been.
DI VERSITY is a feminist lawyer.