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Law Society to introduce charter to better advance women in law

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Lawyers are encouraged to comment on a draft Gender Diversity and Inclusion Charter being developed for the legal profession.

The charter is an initiative of the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel that was set up to look at ways to support the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession.

"Gender diversity is critical to the success and sustainability of the legal profession. I hope the charter will help accelerate the progress of women to leadership positions in law," says chair of the Women’s Advisory Panel, Chris Moore.

In recent years women have made up close to 70% of law graduates from universities, and almost 50% of those holding practising certificates. Yet women make up less than 30% of those who are partners or directors in law firms.

"We need to see greater progress in terms of the advancement of women to the higher ranks of the legal profession. The charter is about the profession committing to concerted action to address this visible and longstanding problem," says New Zealand Law Society President, Kathryn Beck.

The Gender Diversity and Inclusion Charter is voluntary but requires law firms and in-house teams that sign up to the charter to make a number of commitments.

Some of the key commitments as a signatory include:

- Implement unconscious bias training for all lawyers and key staff.

- Develop recruitment, retention and promotion policies that include diversity and inclusion as an important consideration.

- Conduct annual gender pay audits to identify and eliminate unjustifiable pay disparities based on gender.

- Encourage and support flexible working to assist all lawyers to balance professional and personal responsibilities.

- Actively work to increase the percentage of women in senior legal roles.

- Assign responsibility for meeting charter commitments to a named, senior level individual within the law firm.

- Collect and share with the New Zealand Law Society examples of practical approaches to diversity and inclusion that make a real difference.

- Measure and report on progress against charter commitments every two years to the New Zealand Law Society.

"The culture across the legal profession needs to move forward if we are to retain our many women practitioners. We believe these are the right areas to target in addressing this vital issue," Ms Beck says.

The New Zealand Law Society is seeking feedback from all lawyers on the draft charter by 6 October. The Law Society’s Gender Diversity and Inclusion Charter is part of a broader programme of work on diversity. The charter will evolve over time to also include other aspects of diversity such as ethnic and cultural diversity.

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