World-class companies in all kinds of fields are aspiring to create gender equality in the workplace. Telstra is one of them and we know that we need action, not just good intentions, to meet that aspiration.
Today we have become a founding signatory to the Equitable Briefing lnitiative, designed to make sure that more women barristers are given the full range of opportunities in commercial litigation.
By supporting this initiative the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Bar’s Commercial Bar Association (CommBar), judges, lawyers and leading companies like Telstra will help pull down some of the barriers to women at the Bar.
The legal profession is changing. It’s becoming a more accurate reflection of our society. However, while women now outnumber men entering the profession , at senior levels the situation remains unacceptably unequal. Figures from the Australian Bar Association show that in 2014 the ratio of men and women working as practicing Junior Counsel was three to one. Among Senior Counsel, that ratio is a staggering nine to one
Telstra is the first in-house legal team to support the Equitable Briefing lnitiative and we worked closely with the Commercial Bar Association and the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commissioner in its development.
This public declaration is the next step in our ongoing drive towards gender equality in the workplace. Last year I wrote to the law firms we work with to explain the importance we place on diversity and gender equality. I asked them to tell us if there were any work-practices we adopt that either support or discourage gender equality, and asked them about their practices and policies to support gender equality and broader inclusion.
As one of Australia’s largest companies this was something new for us and probably for the legal industry. We weren’t simply asking firms about their expertise and costs, we wanted to know how our actions as a client impacted their ability to promote flexibility and diversity. The response has been strong and we’ve learnt about a lot of exciting things that firms are doing.
To drive change, we need to be able to measure progress. This year I asked the firms we work with to include at least one female barrister when they made recommendations on who we should work with. Firms were also asked to provide data on the number of male and female barristers retained and the amounts paid to them.
I’m happy to say the split of our work briefed directly to barristers is roughly in line with the proportion of women currently at the Victorian Bar. However the fees paid to men are disproportionately higher. Our aspiration is that that approximately 30% of our work goes to female barristers, and female barristers receive approximately 30% of the relevant fees we pay.
Having a diverse workforce and creating gender equality should be an essential for every business. We want to work with the world’s best people, and that simply can’t happen unless we enhance the role of women in the legal profession.