WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP IN LAW
On 18 September 2019, the women at Dentons South Africa (one of the leading global law firms) in association with WOZA (Women in Law South Africa) held a “Women in Leadership in Law” event at its Sandton offices. The event hosted a number of successful and highly esteemed women from the legal society, both practising and non-practising including the founder and CEO of SABWiL NPC, Adv. Ayesha Tiry and Alumna, Adv. Malebo Matome.
The event was held not only to highlight the barriers encountered by women in achieving leadership, but also to share in ideas of how we can achieve positive change and transformation in the profession.
Around the table, women took turns to mention what they hoped to achieve or get from the event. In summary, the following connotes some of the women’s expectations from the event:
- The title of “Female Lawyer” must desist;
- The playing field needs to be levelled;
- Empowerment of women and Sisterhood;
- Education- Gender Based Equality (most women revered at this description);
- Analyse root causes and calls for Action-solutions must be practical and impactful;
- SHIFT – mental attitude needs to shift;
- How to be the best you want to be;
- Tools to navigate the patriarchy;
- Disconnect; and
- Change the lens- we need to look at our role as women differently.
The agenda was based on a survey conducted in November 2017 by the Law Society of Wales and England on the topic of women in Law.
1. Unconscious Bias
- Social norms:
Women came forward and complained about how they most often feel the need to lie about their biology in the workplace. Other women complained about how it is difficult for them to take time out without being judged.
- Push for representation on the panel, table or any position:
The representation of women in leadership seats or executive positions needs to be relooked. Board quality is depended on board diversity.
- How we perceive our own spaces- do not allow situations to change:
Women often find themselves changing their lives in order to accommodate the structural impediments that are settled in preventing them from reaching the top.
- We judge women very harshly when women want to put their careers on hold:
Most women see this as a career suicide to have a woman take a break from their career. The bullying that often comes from women contributes to the situation at hand. More women tend to adjust their careers for family life. This is hardly the result for men.
- Advocate for societal shift-women can work from home:
Women must be given the option to work in the comfort of their home. The advancement of technology can facilitate in bridging and achieving efficiency and compete in the global scale.
- The language used- Paternal leave v Maternity Leave:
The terms used to describe this period of absence from work should be gender neutral, and the period afforded to women should also be the same for men, in order to assist in preparation and taking care of the baby.
- The culture- drawing the line between respecting it:
An interesting topic that came about from the discussion was how culture plays a role in the workplace. Some women noted that there are certain practices that they find difficult to ignore in the workplace.
- Human Rights-falling back on them:
Treating people with the same moral principles and norms that everyone deserves should be at the forefront. This will help in bridging stereotypes faced by women in the workplace.
2. Gender Pay Gaps
- Discrimination to have two people doing the same job but paid differently:
The difference in the average between all men and women in the workplace is alarming. Women are significantly disadvantaged in relation to the pay they receive.
- Shift in female employer:
We need to start to get the female employer to think differently about empowering women in the workplace. The legal profession needs to set out educational funds to further educational training in this aspect.
3. Flexible working hours
Deviation from the traditional working hours needs to be implemented. There is a steady rise of flexible work arrangements and the impact it has had on teams has been impactful.
It was agreed that there must be a middle ground- a balancing act- between virtual work at home and presence in the office.
The following solutions were raised by attendees:
- Law firms must invest in technology and Education training;
- Women must realise that it is okay to be successful;
- Training management skills;
- Calling out- transparency can decrease the gap between the two;
- Have men back the initiative;
- Have a scorecard for companies that hire women and pay women on an equal basis;
- Women must stop acting like men to try to fit in and be taken seriously by men. Femininity will not discount their intelligence;
- There are mechanisms and legislation in place that can be used;
- Toxic masculinity- awareness of what is happening around women;
- Calling it out and refusal to allow such negative behaviour to be tolerated;
- We need more Male champions to assist in effecting change;
- Changing the language- from Female Lawyers to just Lawyers;
- Women’s day must be seen as an opportunity to hear from woman what they really want instead of the stereotypical celebrations;
- Diversity and Inclusion; and
- Celebrating the achievements of women.
In closing, all the attendees made a pledge. A pledge to commit to implementing the recommendations and solutions discussed at the roundtable.
Overall, the event was a success. A very special thank you to Rehana Khan Parker, from Rehana Khan Parker Attorneys, who organised the event and the women from Dentons who made this event possible. The theme colours were purple and all things glittery and sparkling. The colour purple is often associated with royalty, nobility, power and ambition. And indeed, that is what the room was filled with, Women of royalty, with noble rank in the profession, powerful beyond measure and passionate about achieving success.
Advocate Malebo Matome
JSA Pupil Advocate, SABWiL Alumna
11 November 2019