Tompkins Wake chief executive Jon Calder is calling on other Waikato law firms to support the Law Society’s Gender Equality Charter.
At an Institute of Directors lunch earlier this month, Calder spoke about his firm’s commitment to the Charter and the work it is doing to meet the Charter requirements – and issued a challenge.
“I have a genuine desire to see all law firms demonstrating leadership in light of what happened in the sector last year,” Calder said.
“We all have a part to play when it comes to improving diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession, to understand and address the barriers to achieving equal opportunities in our workplaces.”
The Gender Equality Charter is a set of commitments aimed at improving the retention and advancement of women lawyers. Charter signatories are asked to meet these commitments over a two-year period and report on progress to the Law Society.
The Charter was launched by the Law Society in April last year and has now been adopted by 118 legal workplaces across the country.
Those signatories represent more than 2900 lawyers of the approximately 13500 that hold practising certificates in New Zealand.
Calder acknowledges that while Tompkins Wake has long been regarded as a leader in many areas defined by the charter, continuous improvement underpins the firm’s focus and with one female partner at board level the firm has work to do.
“But there’s also more to the Charter than gender balance at a governance level. The charter focuses on many facets that impact everyone at Tompkins Wake,” Calder said.
“For example, we’ve begun to implement unconscious bias training for all lawyers and management, we encourage and support flexible working arrangements that enable our team to balance professional and personal responsibilities. In fact, 25 per cent of our staff are on flexible work arrangements, including four partners. And that’s something that we implemented as far back as 2005.
“Gender equality and inclusion in senior legal roles is embedded in the firm’s culture and how we work. 85% of our associates are female, and five of our last seven partner promotions have been female.”
Other aspects of the Charter that Tompkins Wake has embedded include conducting annual gender pay audits and taking action to close any gender pay gaps, reviewing areas of their practice with a gender equality and inclusion lens (such as recruitment, retention and promotion practices), and ensuring equitable briefing and instruction practices.
“My challenge to other Waikato law firms and, in fact all law firms, is not point scoring, but rather a wish to see others commit to helping improve culture. I also want to encourage those firms with positive actions already in place to tell their stories. This is not a box-ticking compliance exercise. It’s a collective commitment to making tangible improvements to our sector for the people who work in it. I’ve been open about sharing the work we’ve done and are doing with other firms and have opened some positive dialogue to help support collective improvement.”
The Charter is open to the whole legal profession; law firms, in-house legal teams, sole practitioners and barristers’ chambers can all sign up to signal their commitment to gender equality and inclusion.