19 law firms lauded as employers of choice for gender equality

Find out who kept their citation and who earned the accolade for the first time this year

19 law firms lauded as employers of choice for gender equality

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has recognised 19 law firms as Employers of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE).

Only 119 Australian organisations gained the accolade. For the first time the accreditation has been made for a two-year period. Libby Lyons, WGEA director, also said that the eligibility criteria have been strengthened by placing greater emphasis on accountability, outcomes, evidence, and internal reporting processes.

“All these organisations are at the forefront of the momentum for change towards gender equality in Australian workplaces. These industry leaders are showing other Australian businesses how to create a better and more equal future for both women and men,” she said.

The announcement of the citation holders gained even more meaning because of the effect the citation has had in the community.

“New research just released by WGEA and the University of Queensland’s AIBE Centre for Gender Equality in the Workplace shows that the targeted and strategic action EOCGE citation holders are taking has delivered significant improvements. They are closing their pay gaps and increasing their representation of women in management at a faster rate than other employers in our dataset. These findings alone demonstrate the tangible impact of the EOCGE citation,” Lyons said.

In alphabetical order, along with the number of years each firm has qualified as a citation holder, Australia’s EOCGE law firms for 2019-2020 are:

Dentons and Lander & Rogers attained the accreditation for the first time this year. Missing among the citation holders this year are Ashurst, which had held the citation for 14 years; Cooper Grace Ward, which was an eight-time citation holder; and Herbert Smith Freehills, which gained the accreditation for the seventh time last year.

Doug Stepanicev, Dentons Australia chair and Australasia region chief executive, said that gender equality is a core focus area of the firm’s diversity program. He said its board, diversity and inclusion committee, HR team, and other leaders have been working hard to create a workplace that provides equal opportunity and outcomes for women and men through initiatives such as gender equality policies, remuneration benchmarking, and flexible working arrangements.

“By supporting the development of our female professionals we have also seen an increase in female representation across the firm, and we are now one of the leading firms in Australia for women at partnership level,” he said. “We are very proud to have received the citation, and it has strengthened our commitment to achieving gender equality and to champion it within the legal industry.”

Genevieve Collins, Lander & Rogers' chief executive partner, said that the citation is validation for the firm’s important programs and initiatives. She said, however, that more needs to be done.

"We want to create a culture where senior leaders don’t look at gender equality as a women's issue, but a business issue and a fairness issue – essential for economies and communities to thrive, and enabling everyone, regardless of their gender to share equally in the opportunities the world has to offer,” she said. “Having a diverse and inclusive environment is essential for our collective success and I’m absolutely focused on creating a culture at Lander & Rogers that provides an exceptional experience for all our people."

Anthony Foley, Baker McKenzie’s national managing partner, said that the firm is committed to demonstrating the required leadership, delivering the right learning and development, ensuring no gender remuneration gaps, supporting flexible working and other initiatives to support family responsibilities, employee consultation, preventing sex-based harassment and discrimination, and targets for improving gender equality outcomes.

“Our Australian offices are deeply committed to achieving the firm's global gender targets set at 40:40:20 to represent 40% women, 40% men and 20% flexible (women, men or non-binary persons). These targets apply to partners, senior business professionals, the firm's committee leadership and candidate pools for recruitment by 1 July, 2025. Such targets are critical, and demonstrate our determination to achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace,” he said.

The citation recognises Baker McKenzie’s implementation of the practices, policies, and culture needed to drive the firm’s initiatives, he said. 

Clayton Utz said that it is seeing improvements in gender diversity at senior levels and that the firm is on track to meet its target of its partnership being 35% women by 2022. In the past 12 months, it hosted its first national conference dedicated to supporting LGBTIQ women, it embedded flexible working practices from its graduate group to the partnership, and it refreshed and modernised its domestic and family violence policy.

“While we remain proud of our gains in progressing gender equality, we recognise it is an ongoing journey to reach true gender equality and diversity in the workplace.  We look forward to driving and developing meaningful initiatives to create a more inclusive and diverse culture which will result in better outcomes for our firm, our clients and our community,” said Karen O’Flynn, Clayton Utz board chair.

Gavin MacLaren, Corrs Chambers Westgarth chief executive and WGEA pay equity ambassador, said, “Achieving gender equality is a key priority for the firm and for me personally. The WGEA citation is recognition of the progress we have made to date, however we acknowledge that there is still much to be done.”

The citation is a demonstration of DLA Piper’s commitment to gender equality to both existing and potential employees, as well as clients and stakeholders, said Amber Matthews, the firm’s Australia managing partner.

“At DLA Piper, we take a holistic, sustainable and measured approach, which includes linking our strategic business objectives, with our HR and leadership objectives, to enable our staff – at all levels – to understand and appreciate the importance of gender equality to our firm, and more broadly,” she said.

Key areas of focus on equality at DLA Piper include flexible working through its WorkSmart Policy; parental leave, which was increased to 18 weeks and given increased flexibility as well as superannuation continuation for up to 12 months; enhanced support for victims of domestic and family violence as part of the firm’s new domestic and family violence and sexual assault policy; improved psychological safety in the workplace through training of mental health ambassadors; continued review and improvement of support provided to its pipeline of female talent; and continued review and improvement of pay equity and performance rating analyses.

“It is terrific that once again Gilbert + Tobin has been named a WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality. The 2019-20 award was set against challenging new criteria and we are particularly pleased to have been recognised for the sixth consecutive year. We continue to be passionate about providing an equitable workplace for all our employees and are on track to meet our progressive target for the percentage of women in the partnership,” said Danny Gilbert, managing partner.

Anna Sparkes, chief people officer, said, “We are committed to building a gender equal firm, addressing economic inequality for women and embracing the future of work. Our flexible working arrangements and support structures include best-practice parental leave entitlements policies for women and men. We have always been passionate about being the firm of choice for women and have set high targets for women in the partnership.”

G+T has implemented several measures to break down barriers stopping women’s full participation in the workforce, including superannuation on unpaid parental leave for both women and men, providing employees with technology kits to work from home, and continuing to provide best-practice parental leave entitlement and flexibility options.

This year’s citation marks the 12th year that Holding Redlich has been recognised as an EOCGE awardee. Ian Robertson, national managing partner, said that the firm is very pleased to receive the important and high-level citation.

“The federal government requires a rigorous and thorough submission from candidates in order to be considered for this award where we must outline the steps we are taking to stamp out gender inequality and boost diversity at our firm,” he said.

K&L Gates said that the recognition is very timely for the firm, as it was announced the same day the firm announced its global partnership promotions round. Of the new partners the international firm elevated in Australia, 75% are women who work part-time.

Maddocks said that it was recognised for a range of initiatives designed to promote gender equality through analysing gender pay equity, promoting flexible working, and developing future leaders.

 “In the past year we have updated our flexible working strategy to emphasise to all of our people that they will be measured on their contribution to the firm, not how long they sit at their desk,” said Marita Pascoe, senior manager for diversity, inclusion, wellbeing and projects.

 “During my six years as CEO of Maddocks, I am proud to have led a partnership and a firm dedicated to making sure that all of its people have the same opportunities to have the career they want,” said Michelle Dixon, Maddocks chief executive.

She said that from the partnership and board through to the heads of legal teams and legal support teams, there’s an excellent mix of talented men and women  who have risen to leadership roles.

“It is no coincidence, in my view, that this shift has taken place at the same time as the firm has grown significantly in just about every measure – from partner and staff numbers through to revenue,” she said.

Maurice Blackburn CEO Jacob Varghese said that the citation is particularly a proud moment for the firm, which is focused on justice and fairness for clients.

He said that more than 77% of the firm’s 1,095 employees are women. In 2019, 75% of all promoted personnel were women, while 80% of all promoted managers were women.

For its commitment to gender equality, Maurice Blackburn has introduced measures to reduce the gender pay gap, including a consistent and transparent classification structure for employees in comparable roles. Four of its seven board seats are also held by women. The firm also supported 105 women and three men to access an 18-week full primary-carer leave last year, with continued superannuation payments. It also said that 70% of its workforce had access to flexible work arrangements. The firm also ensured that at least one woman at a senior level was involved in all of its talent sourcing activities. It also continued to insist that the firm participate only on panels and events where there is equal gender representation.

Louise Ferris, McCullough Robertson chief people officer, said that the firm has a strong focus on driving a culture that welcomes a diverse workforce.

“While we recognise that there is still work to be done across the industry, we are incredibly proud to have received this citation once again and be seen as a leader in working towards gender equality in all Australian workplaces,” she said.

Over the past year, the firm has continued to focus its efforts on achieving gender parity, unconscious-bias training, flexible work arrangements, and mentorship and sponsorship opportunities to boost career progression.

Paul Gleeson, Russell Kennedy managing director, said that the firm’s continued focus is on four key areas, which are flexibility, gender composition, gender pay equity, and leader and manager capability.

“These are documented in a detailed strategy that includes measurable objectives. Our strategy and the outcomes are reviewed at least annually to ensure that the benefits are delivered to our people and that we remain a leading firm for the attraction, promotion and retention of talent,” he said.

 “Russell Kennedy’s application continues to include flexible work practices, tailored parental leave policies, including the support of foster care for both women and men, initiatives to support the return to work, programs to increase women in leadership and robust analysis and correction of gender pay gaps,” said Catherine Cox, head of people and culture.

For Sparke Helmore, the citation process itself is important because it ensures the firm remains focused and on track for continued improvement, said Phillip Salem, national managing partner.

“It’s wonderful to be able to demonstrate that our efforts to improve outcomes for women and men at the firm are continuing to have an impact,” he said.

Related stories

Free newsletter

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter service and we’ll keep you up-to-date with the latest breaking news, cutting edge opinion, and expert analysis affecting both your business and the industry as whole.

Please enter your email address below and click on Sign Up for daily newsletters from Australasian Lawyer.

Recent articles & video

KWM advises on “first of its kind” renewable PPA for multinational mining company

US bar launches Giving Day as part of national pro bono celebration

Cooper Grace Ward appoints deputy managing partner

‘Stop trying to sound like a lawyer,’ Piper Alderman partner says

City of London calls for the fast-tracking of court infrastructure digitalisation

LCM grows Sydney roster with new investment manager

Most Read Articles

Life sciences and regulatory expert joins Hogan Lovells as partner

Mentoring and mental health are top priorities for this Carter Newell partner

Carter Newell welcomes two to partnership in major promotions round

‘Stop trying to sound like a lawyer,’ Piper Alderman partner says