Interview | Demetrio Zema (Law Squared)

Sophie (TLF) had a brilliant conversation with Demetrio Zema, Founder and Director at Law Squared.  Law Squared works as a part of their clients’ teams, providing strategic advice and proactively managing their daily legal requirements.  This gives their clients the opportunity to partner with lawyers of substance who are totally committed to their business’ success.

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What are the top five values that underpin your day-to-day decisions and choices?

I have two key principles and rules in my life (personal and professional) and they are “Trust” and “Respect”. Each decision I make and interaction I have is based on these principles. More broadly, some of the key principles and values in my day to day include:

o   Leadership and Mentoring

o   Personal and Professional Growth

o   Transparency

o   Accountability

o   Balance (personal and professional) – this is the toughest!

Do you think the traditional law firm as we know it will exist in 10 years’ time?

I certainly think that whilst there will be substantial shifts in the legal industry over the next 5-10 years, big law as we know it, is likely to remain and still exist in 10 years time. There are clients and certain types of work which will still require (and want) that traditional law firm and its service offering. Whilst I have no doubt it will diminish significantly, there will still be a place in the industry for the traditional model.

What kind of culture do you foster in your firm?

Culture is a key focus of mine and ensuring that all members of the Law Squared team. To me a good leader is accountable for creating and maintaining firm culture. A good leader must be the symbol of moral unity of the firm and live the values that hold that firm together. Most importantly, a good leader is responsible for conceiving and articulating goals that lift people out of their preoccupations, carry them above the conflicts that tear firm cultures apart and unite them in the pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts. As a new law player we have a strong strategic goal and plan and it is important each of the members of our team share the same outlook and positivity.

What are the highs and lows of working with start-ups and entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs by their very nature have high expectations of themselves and the team the build around them. Managing expectations is a critical part of the role we play as lawyers for our clients to ensure the timelines set and the outcomes which we seek to achieve are all streamlined. Daily we get to meet a number of founders with exciting and innovative ideas. However often many of them do not have the right support nor are equipped with all the right resources to allow them to execute their ideas into businesses. The benefits of having a network of service providers to refer clients to, and to help them realise their potential and growth is one of the best highs of working in this space.

Client experience is a strong foundation for your firm, how do you think changing client expectations are transforming the nature of legal services?

We are dedicated in our commitment to provide multi-dimensional holistic services to this unique clientele. Our approach is not of the ‘cookie-cutter’ kind; rather, our approach is different in that we offer a quasi-partnership to our clients. Indeed, we are certain in our resolve to provide a more authentic way for clients to engage with lawyers, which objective we seek to achieve by working closely as part of our clients’ teams, providing strategic advice to them and proactively managing their daily legal requirements. Our commitment to partnering with entrepreneurs and SMEs is not limited to those who have retained us; in fact, our commitment extends to the wider-public, as illustrated by the free-of-charge events we regularly host, which range from ‘social events’ to ‘legal seminars’. These points together, allow us to transform and change the conversation about lawyers and the value (or traditionally lack of) that lawyers add to a business.

You work in Sydney and Melbourne – are there differences between the 2 cities when it comes to innovation/business culture?

With offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, I am fortunate to be able to experience the start up and entrepreneur eco-system in each of those three cities and their respective states. Each are unique in their offering and in their advancement into innovation and embracing new technologies. Brisbane is quickly growing and substantial investment being made by the government of QLD to grow and harness creative and innovative businesses and they are building a great eco-system. Sydney is a more established eco system particularly in the fin-tech and general tech style businesses. The leading Venture Capital and Investment funds often call Sydney home. Melbourne has a bustling entrepreneur and innovation culture which is extremely supportive and collaborative. There are in my view differences in each of these cities.

Do you feel that universities are helping to mould the lawyers of the future? What should they be doing?

I stated in another interview recently that new law firms, such as Law Squared shows students that there are ways in which law can be practiced outside of the traditional framework in a more positive, productive, and rewarding environment.

Law Squared is one of the drivers of new-law in Australia and it is great to see our firm be recognised as a new law leader.

Students and universities should actively seek out the new law players and also some of the law tech market places which are providing new opportunities for young lawyers to practice law in a new and innovative way. Rather than focusing on the traditional trajectory from university to traineeship to the partner, universities should be supporting law students and graduates in opportunities in the non-traditional legal space.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Review | The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest

Sophie Tversky is the TLF VIC President and recently attended The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest with two of our TLF NSW representatives, Adrian Agius and Erika Ly.  Sophie wanted to share her thoughts on the event with some amazing insight from Steve Tyndall (NextLegal) and Ann-Maree David (College of Law).

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(L-R): Adrian Agius, Erika Ly and Sophie Tversky

The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest took place in Sydney from 30 April – 2 May, bringing together almost 400 representatives from legal and tech industries. I had the opportunity to attend, along with TLF’s NSW Director, Adrian Agius and Board Member, Erika Ly.

Now in its second year, the conference is a collaboration between the International Legal Technology Association and The Eventful Group, which provides a conversation platform for the industry to discuss technological and innovation best practices from a range of In House Counsel, Lawyers, CIO/CTOs and innovation and strategy leaders. It provides a vehicle for learning how to adapt in the face of this disruptive market and consider change as an opportunity. Now more than ever, change is business as usual.

For Steve Tyndall (Managing Director, NextLegal), the importance of this conference lay in exploring  “new approaches to legal services and shifting client expectations.”  Knowing what the push factors of disruption are is an interesting topic in itself, however for Ann-Maree David (CEO/Executive Director Qld, The College of Law), understanding that clients are a central driver for transformation is key to innovating with purpose.

Indeed, for me, one of the highlights was Michael McQueen’s (Trend Forecaster and Business Strategist) opening keynote discussing the importance of “digging the well before you get thirst”. Strategy, he says, is crucial rather than responding to disruption in an ad-hoc, survival– mode manner. This concept of thinking beyond the immediate and considering unconventional competition is evident in the emergence of Virtual law firms, legal review and drafting platforms such as jeugene; and chatbots such as “Do Not Pay”, which has overturned 160,000 parking tickets and has a 64-70% success rate.

The tension arising in this context is how do law firms stay ahead of the game and plan for the future?  

The closing keynote presented by Dr. Amantha Imber (Founder, Inventium) on cultivating innovation – another highlight –  explained that collaboration and going wide are crucial, as they must draw on other knowledge and not be limited by industry silos.  She provided practical advice on how organisations can minimise risks but yield benefits from experimenting.  Ironically, a working definition of innovation was only provided at the end of the first day. This highlights the difficulty: innovation has become a buzz word and thankfully Dr. Imber unravelled its meaning by providing concrete steps to its application.

From very early on, the speakers demonstrated that, as per Steve Tyndall,  “disruption and innovation are no longer just relevant to those seeking alternative or futuristic approaches.”

Sam Nickless’  (COO, Gilbert + Tobin) presentation crushed the myth that we need to show pictures of robots in AI articles to draw attention to the topic. Stopping the hype around AI and understanding that practical implementations needs to start at the bottom with basic automation systems and then build up to learning-based task automation/cognitive automation systems.

Law firms need to find a balance between fitting AI to meet business needs and experimentation for technological growth. On a similar note, Shaun Temby (Partner, Maddocks), discussed programmes facilitating innovation at his firm, stating that innovation wasn’t for everyone, however you had to start somewhere.

Similarly, Fiona McLeod S.C (President, Law Council of Australia) considered the ethical and legal implications of the world we are moving into with driverless cars and how modern court proceedings will be influenced by digital witnesses and technologies such as FitBits. Rein Graat (General Counsel, Asia-Pacific, ING Bank) and Mick Sheehy (General Counsel- Finance, Technology, Innovation & Strategy, Telstra) in separate presentations, discussed practical ways to structurally create innovative cultures.

As stated, the conference is an important forum, however there are still improvements to be made in future, so that it can fulfill its role as a hub of best practice and embrace the new era of the legal industry.

1. Wide-scale, structural implementation of technology

NSW President of TLF, Adrian Agius, notes that while discussion regarding individual technological implementations provided insight, there was a lack of focus on using technology as a core function rather than a side support.  He suggests that presentations should take holistic approaches as well as focusing on details.

2. Best Practices from Other Disciplines

Dr. Amantha Imber and Janet Verden (Customer Experience Transformer), in separate presentations, both emphasised the importance of ‘going wide’ and looking at other industries to inform practices. In my opinion, this was largely absent from the conference. I would like to see greater drawing upon non-legal best practices.

3. Innovation Is Not Just Tech

Tech is often equated with innovation. This is understandable as most of the leading disruptors are tech-based. Nevertheless, these terms should not be confused. Tech is playing a crucial role in the transformation of law firms with AI, legal project management systems, e-discovery and analytic tools.  However, an equal focus on innovation, particularly in programs implemented to encourage innovative thinking, structural and service changes within law firms, should also be showcased.

Taking this further, Ann-Maree David said: “there was generalised chatter in some sessions about roadblocks to innovative thinking within law firms but none I attended dealt with the inherent biases operating in management teams….which ultimately prevent innovation.”

4. Those Absent In the Room

Despite there being 14 female speakers, the absence of women in the large majority of panel discussions was a problem. Cultural and intergenerational diversity was also lacking. This was also noted by Ann-Maree David, who was concerned about the gender imbalance at most sessions. Gaining a holistic view of issues pertaining to the legal industry by including greater diversity is crucial to the strength and validity of any discussion.

At the beginning of the conference, Michael McQueen talked about the millennial mindset, both good and bad. He highlighted that “fresh eyes” and seeing Gen Y’s ideas as a gift and not a threat, are core elements for legal innovation (and innovation at large).  I think that the disruption of the legal industry provides a perfect opportunity to bring together senior knowledge and “fresh eyes”, to better service clients.  Therefore, let’s involve Gen Y in these discussions regarding how they want to be mentored and how they see the development/improvement of the legal industry, in future conferences.

The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest was a great platform for the legal community to come together and discuss ways forward, learn from each other and strategise future processes.  It allowed assumptions regarding innovation and technology to be uncovered and create frank conversations regarding the practicalities of innovation. The conference has immense value and TLF looks forward to seeing it evolve and grow each year.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Matthew Farrington (Juno Legal)

Michael (TLF) recently caught up with Matthew Farrington, Lawyer and Legal Technologist at Juno Legal.  Juno provides streamlined in-house counsel at great value. They can work in your office alongside your existing legal team, provide an in-house legal function as seconded sole counsel or support your business remotely.

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We would love to hear about your background and how you eventually became connected to Juno.

I’ve always been a bit of a geek (I cut my teeth on a Commodore 64 and Amiga 500), but somehow ended up a lawyer. As a lawyer, I’ve worked in private practice, for a hedge fund, and in government. My legal practice has included ICT contracting, commercial law, public law, financial regulation, and derivatives, securities and other financial instruments. But I think I found my true calling when I shifted into more of a practice management or legal consultant role, focussing on designing and implementing systems to help lawyers work more efficiently and effectively.

I’m also a parent to two children. I was a senior associate in private practice when my wife (who is also a lawyer) and I decided that it would be best for our family for me to take some time off and be a full-time parent. I’ve never done anything that was so wonderful and so exasperating in equal measure! But it was certainly a change to go from negotiating ISDA Master Agreements to negotiating whose turn it was to turn the pages in the story we were reading. Clients at least don’t need you to wipe their noses (mostly).

After a few years of parenting, I went back to work part time, mainly on a contracting basis. It was during this time that I met Helen Mackay, who started Juno Legal. Helen and I share a lot of views about the future of the legal profession, the role of lawyers (especially in-house lawyers), and the need for flexible and fulfilling working arrangements. When the opportunity to work with Helen came up, I leapt at the chance.

What do you see your key responsibilities to be as a Legal Technologist for Juno?

Fundamentally, showing lawyers better ways of working. This might be ways of better identifying and managing legal risk, work flow and practice management, or how to demonstrate value.

A particular focus of mine is what I call the information cycle. At a very basic level, as lawyers we use our knowledge to generate documents. The documents form the basis of records. And the records inform our future knowledge. Law is essentially a knowledge industry – it’s what we know that sets us apart from non-lawyers. But lawyers aren’t particularly good at managing the knowledge we’ve already got. A key part of my role is working with in-house legal teams and private practices to implement systems and processes to harness that knowledge to allow lawyers to access and build on that knowledge. I like the joke “where is the best place to hide anything on the internet?” “Page 2 of the Google search results.” Law is just the same. I hate spending unnecessary time tracking down a previous bit of advice, or worse, recreating something that already exists but couldn’t be found! A good knowledge management system is key to solving this particular problem.

I strongly believe in the power of technology to effect positive changes in legal practices. But not all changes need to be technological. I think some of my best results have come from streamlining or optimising certain processes, which can be as simple as a basic flow chart or step-by-step guide.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you and your colleagues have experienced being in-house counsel on demand?

The role of in-house counsel varies massively from business to business. Some in-house lawyers are key strategic advisers, others are managers of legal teams, while still others are leading technical experts in their areas of law. Each business is also unique. The legal requirements of a major business with a large in-house team are very different to a smaller or start-up company that may only have a part-time legal resource. Both are different again to an entity in the public sector. And with all those differences, the role and expectations of in-house lawyers vary too.

Going in to one of these organisations as a flexible legal resource, and getting up to speed with the particular requirements of that organisation and its legal team can be challenging but you get better at being adaptable. But it’s also one of the best parts of the job, which is massively varied and always interesting! Being a good lawyer is critical but you need to have other skills to be a great in-house lawyer so we focus on being commercial, pragmatic and having sound judgement.

How would you define or describe NewLaw?

I think of NewLaw as any way of providing legal services other than via the traditional private practice-billable unit model. NewLaw covers a range of disciplines, from artificial intelligence, to technology assisted review and document construction, to alternative service models and fee structures. To me, NewLaw isn’t about replacing lawyers with artificial intelligence; it’s about providing smarter tools and better ways of working to lawyers to help them do their jobs more efficiently, more effectively, and more enjoyably.

Most point to NewLaw starting in the 1990s or 2000s with the early stages of document automation and the beginnings of flexible legal resource providers. But I think you can look further back, to the 1970s and the beginnings of the in-house revolution as the real origin of “NewLaw”. The rise of the general counsel as key strategic players in their organisations has fundamentally altered the way law is practised, and I think for the better. It is in-house counsel that are driving the changes to the way the business of law is carried out, and therefore really began the NewLaw revolution.

We note you donate to charities at the completion of each project or assignment to give opportunities to Kiwi families – what have been some of your favourite causes to support?

Each of our lawyers chooses a New Zealand charity whose mission they feel connected to. For me, I would like to support a charity that focuses on technology education for children, something I’m particularly keen to encourage. We currently support Outward Bound and Nga Tangata Microfinance. Outward Bound exists to “create better people, better communities and a better world”. Through various courses people, business professionals and young adults learn to grasp every opportunity thrown their way. Nga Tangata Microfinance is a great charity that aims to build a more just and equitable society in Aotearoa New Zealand by providing small, safe and fair loans to low income families.

Is there anything particular about lawyers that you believe holds back legal innovation?

I think the biggest single problem is just not starting. Lawyers are typically excellent problem solvers. If we see a legal problem, it’s usually the next best thing to impossible for us not to try and solve it. But when it comes to problems that aren’t strictly “legal issues” – including the ways we work and the tools we use to work – we often don’t know where or how to start. Many of us are so busy with the legal problems in front of us right now, we don’t have time to think about how we can mitigate the issues before they hit our desks with panicked cries of “this is urgent”.

Lawyers don’t need to know three coding languages and to have successfully Kickstarted a new app to be legal innovators. We don’t need a week of dedicated time set aside to brainstorm a new and better way of working. If you see a problem with the way you work, and think you’ve got a better way of doing it, try and do something to effect positive change for your business, your firm or your client. This doesn’t have to be a technology solution; as I mentioned above, some of the best results can come from something as simple as a basic flow chart or step-by-step guide.

And if your solution is technological and you need your IT department’s help, don’t be afraid if you don’t speak tech. I’ve championed the use of the user story as a means for lawyers to bridge the gap between legal requirements and technology solutions. Technology solutions also don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes a change to a configuration of an existing system is all you need.

What is your favourite quote?

Officially, “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself”. It’s usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln but I came to it via Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize Foundation. I think this is great advice, and the story of Peter and the X Prize Foundation is a fascinating one with lots of insights into the power of doing things differently. For those that are interested, Julian Guthrie’s How to Build a Spaceship is a fascinating read.

But I have to admit, pretty much any of the classic quotes from the Simpsons will have me in stitches.

What advice would you give to students or young lawyers who are interested in legal technology?

Disruption is coming. The job you do as a lawyer at the end of your career will be nothing like the job you do at the start of your career. Read about disruption. Read about the future of the legal profession. If you only read one thing, read this post by Shelly Palmer (spoiler warning: it is going to tell you to read other things).

We really appreciate the flexibility you offer to your employees – are there any opportunities available?

If you are an experienced in-house counsel, we are always happy to discuss your career plans and potential opportunities. Creating more flexible pathways for lawyers is a key driver for us whether through Juno or through us connecting lawyers into other opportunities and networks.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

TLF Brainstorm | Ep. 3 | Law firm diversity programs

What is TLF Brainstorm? 

TLF Brainstorm is an opportunity for our community of legal forecasters to share their creative ideas in response to an interesting question about the role of the lawyer.

TLF Brainstorm is one part philosophical, one part creative, and most of all, it is a space to share new ideas.

Some of our responses may be genius and change the world forever, some may completely lacklustre, some may be riddled with typos (having been typed and sent through on someone’s mobile phone while on the bus). This is the beauty of TLF Brainstorm.

This episode’s question from Louise Ferris: 

Are law firm diversity programs innovative and changing ways or just creating some bells and whistles?

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Louise Ferris (Director of People and Performance, McCullough Robertson)

žOverall I think the diversity and inclusion programs in law firms have delivered outcomes to a certain level.  What they have achieved is continued conversation which is positive.

žWhat I think we need to realise is that the power of the program is in the individuals that are within the program.  The ability to create change and “shake the tree” rests with individuals and their willingness to show their character and competence in this area.  To stand for something both in words and in actions especially when it is challenging the status quo takes courage and trust not something that comes easily.

žI often have it said to me that the journey is as important as the destination and D&I programs have been part of that journey.  Do I think as an industry we are moving away from just rolling out D&I programs in our organisations, yes I do and I think that this is the right course to be on.

Matthew Burgess (Director, View Legal)

žUnfortunately, I do not have any detailed knowledge of the types of programs that law firms are implementing.

In saying this, looking across industry, a common theme is that successful incumbent firms look to harness diversity of thought.

žCertainly, there is a risk that the focus is on achieving certain minimum acceptable percentages of representation in leadership roles of a particular gender (i.e. female), nationality, religion or sexual orientation.

žArguably, the focus on these specific outcomes is as dangerous for businesses as is focusing on profit as an outcome.

In other words, profit in the business is the outcome of doing a number of fundamental things right.

žSimilarly, diversity in leadership is the outcome of a culture that embraces fundamental concepts, such as Toyota’s ‘5 whys’ – i.e. challenging any issue, principle or tenet of a business with the question ‘why is it so’ five times.

žUltimately, our experience has been that until all forms of input related performance measurements are completely abandoned, there will be little, if any, true diversity of thought inside a firm, regardless of what numbers show up in the ‘diversity charts’ published in the Financial Review.

Andrew Dibden (TLF QLD)

In my view, diversity programs are simply one of many “levers” which are available to be deployed in addressing problems of diversity within professional spheres.  It is an important “hard power” lever in changing organisational behaviour, but without the support of other initiatives will be limited in its capacity to effect lasting change.

The Diversity issue exists.  It is empirically provable by observing trends in industry and statistics clearly show that certain groups dominate certain spaces, where other groups are underrepresented. The question which this should provoke is, simple, “why?”.

Much like the potential strategies which can be deployed to address these imbalances, the explanation for them are multiplicitous and often opaque. Is it, as is often assumed, a product of the malicious powerful few exercising their power to restrict access to others (or at least, others who are “different”) to the spaces of power and influence they currently occupy?  Or is it a subconscious tendency for certain people to want to surround themselves with people who are similar to themselves without thought to the potential motives for wanting to do so? Or, even still, are there certain groups of people who simply do not (or, sadly, cannot) participate in certain spaces? The answer, in my view, lies somewhere in the middle. There are some who wish to exclude others in an attempt to limit challenges to their occupancy of positions of power.  Others demonstrate unconscious biases. And, quite simply, there are some members of groups which may be labeled ‘excluded’ who do not wish to join the space they are identified as being excluded from.

Diversity programs are important in changing organisational attitudes and behaviours.  While a utopic society, equally balanced is a nice idea (and clearly something we do not have), transitioning to one is exceptionally hard.  There will be those amongst the established power structures that are resistant to change and those amongst the marginalised who will not wish to upset the status quo.  Regarding the latter, one issue of the transitory process is that the first member of a marginalised group to “break through” social barriers is then the sole representative of the “voice” of this group amongst the established power structures.  While there are some who would embrace this opportunity, there are others who would not be comfortable embracing this mantle. Diversity programs have the important role of identifying advocates for certain groups and putting them in positions where they can drive change and where those who are less inclined to instigate change on their own behalf have a leader or beacon to look to for guidance. This change is, however, limited by the extent of support these hard shifts in the established power structure receive from other efforts to change perceptions and behaviours of those who wield established power.

Milan Gandhi (TLF QLD)

For the purposes of the question, I take the term “diversity program” to mean any initiative aimed at diversifying the people who make up a law firm i.e. a diversity of races, sexualities, and genders.  

As for whether such programs are “changing ways”, I don’t have an affirmative, negative, succinct or direct answer to this question.  And that is because I don’t know what the metrics are.  I fear that firms mightn’t know them either.  And if they do, they have kept them a secret and succeeded in confusing me.  

One of the issues here may be that firms (and other business organisations) are too skittish in an age of political correctness and social media lynch mobs to properly define what kind of change they are aiming for.  

For example, do firms truly want a diversity of perspectives? If so, why do they simultaneously try to rigidly articulate their “values” and “firm culture”?  Why are their marketing materials meticulously curated to guide the outsider’s mind to a single “idea” or “emotion” that they hope will encapsulate their commercial identity?

Moreover, do they truly want a diversity of abilities? If so, why do they refuse to look beyond grade point average baselines when any rational person can see that a socioeconomically disadvantaged candidate who has worked throughout their degree might have life experience at the expense of good grades?

Are diversity programs an attempt at altruism or advancing the community or are they an attempt at profiting from undiscovered cultures, networks and far away lands?  

Further, how do firms measure diversity?  What exactly are the ingredients?  Do we risk reducing diversity to someone’s appearance or culture or manner of speaking?  For example, is it enough to employ a few Indian people because thereby “India is represented in the diversity matrix” or do organisations realise in light of there being 1.311 billion Indian people and an Indian diaspora totalling 244 million that there may in fact be very little in common between a Bengali raised in Queens and the Gujarati who was born in Sheffield? There may in fact be more in common between the Gujarati born in Sheffield and the Anglo-Saxon Brisbanite born and raised in Brisbane – after all, both had affluent parents and attended the same elite private school.  

Is it simply enough that we have more women, gay people and people of colour in all levels of the organisation? Is that diversity? Or is that an approach that brings two ideas into conflict: first, that a person’s gender or skin colour or sexuality should not define who they are; and, second, that somehow in some contexts, who they are (really) is a consideration that can be supplemented or perhaps overridden by an acknowledgement of their sexuality or what they appear to be on the outside (an acknowledgement that was given, ultimately, so that a checkbox on a “diversity program” could be ticked and marketing materials updated accordingly).

Once law firms and the broader community tackle these and many other unsolved mysteries (and contradictions), meaningful change will occur (whether or not it is innovative is irrelevant).  

On a side note, I do think people can be institutionally disadvantaged.  I also believe that disadvantages in this context are causally connected to one’s race –particularly if one is an indigenous person in Australia– and also to one’s gender –particularly if one is not male– and to one’s sexuality –particularly if one is not heterosexual.  I don’t believe, however, that these factors are necessarily more determinative of a person’s situation of advantage than the sum total of other variables, some imposed upon them, such as the socioeconomic “class” they were born into, and others generated from within them, such as their character and their work ethic.  

Mollie O’Connor (TLF QLD)

The idea of diversity programs doesn’t quite sit well with me. In an ideal world, we shouldn’t need quotas and programs to ensure that law firms are employing individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds. However, this would be ignorant of the reality of the world and the hidden biases that many people, particularly in the legal profession, still hold. Therefore diversity programs to me are necessary, and I cannot deny the fact that I, as an Aboriginal woman, have personally benefited from diversity programs in the legal profession. However, to me they are not in any way innovative or ‘changing ways’, but are merely an example of the legal profession meeting the minimum requirements with respect to diversity.

Law firms need to be actively pushing for change, not passively creating programs and ticking the diversity box. The leaders in the profession, the judges and partners, need to be championing diversity, leading by example, and using their influence to push for more inclusion and representation within the legal profession. Greater education is also required for the wider legal profession, so that these biases can be addressed and hopefully overcome. It should not be the minority that has to fight for recognition and inclusion, but the majority that should be opening the doors.

Whilst I of course intend to be a role model for young Aboriginal people hoping to become lawyers, it should not be left to me or any other member of a minority to lead this change. Therefore I can understand why diversity programs exist currently, but I cannot accept that they are the solution to the problem. More is needed from law firms and members of the legal profession, and when it comes to diversity, we should not settle for anything less than the best.

Angela Metri (TLF NSW)

Of the many ways to interpret ‘diversity’, I’m going to choose gender diversity as it is the most glaring problem in the legal industry in terms of the groups struggling to achieve success in the industry. It’s an issue that isn’t viewed through the lens of innovation the same way other areas are in the legal industry.

There are two reasons I believe diversity programs are not innovative and are not changing for the better, at least not at a respectable rate.

The first is lifestyle. I have yet to see a fully implemented program that enables flexibility the way it is advertised in job positions or on the firm websites. Countless partners or seniors have families and are staying back until quite late every day – it’s viewed as perfectly normal and, more often than not, expected. Those that don’t do this simply don’t move up anywhere near the same rate. It’s not sustainable, no matter how normal it is. I completely understand late nights are necessary for trials and other urgent matters, but it is an issue that affects everyone in families and those who wish to have them. In the legal industry, more often than not, you have to trade one for another. A successful example of the best of both worlds is Sue Kench from Baker & McKenzie.

The second issue is segregation. Because women see how difficult it is with the barriers they face as they move up the ladder, they create numerous women’s legal institutions, awards and other ideas that, although well intended, only serve to widen the gap even further. You don’t hear of the ‘Men’s Lawyers Association’, but women have so many of this kind. It takes away from the important issue that women need to be seen in the same light and same context as their male counterparts if they wish to overcome the problem. I understand the necessity – some recognition and resources are better than none. But it simply does not serve to assist equality in the long term.

The true change will only come when it is passed on from the leaders. Leaders who have had significant experience in the field and have significant influence can make the change. When they are willing to extend that influence to encourage diversity in the legal industry, we can expect change to come in solid waves rather than scattered and half-hearted ‘innovative’ strategies that promote diversity, but do little to actually change our current position.

Akaash Singh (TLF QLD)

To some extent I feel that the diversity programs offer by law firms currently aim for ‘material diversity’.

Diversity for me is people who have come from different experiences and backgrounds. While it is perfectly fine to have a certain percentage of female partners, or a certain percentage of ethnic diversity, to some extent these aims are just ‘bells and whistles’.

For an industry which is very much client focussed and service focussed, touting to a client about diversity programs fail to provide any beneficial value. Therefore, the question is what do these diversity programs lead to? Granted, we recognise that a lot of the rationale behind diversity programs is to start a conversation and get people to recognise that some people are institutionally disadvantaged by their personal circumstances.

True diversity should lead to increased value for law firms because it provides their clients with more proficient legal services; however, the problem with diversity in the legal profession is that it is automatically behind the eight-ball from the graduate program.

Generally, law students are the ones who are excel in high school and come from a high-performing background. While there is some diversity in the personal circumstances of students (indigenous, ethnic, postgraduate entry etc) by and large, when law firms pick students from universities like UQ, QUT or ANU, there is already a predetermined mould. Therefore, I believe there is some value in seeking to engage law students from more remote universities who would have life experience to offer. TLF is a living example of diversity because we have a combination of students and graduates all from different areas and universities who can all offer different perspectives on how to innovate in the legal industry.

While the legal profession aims at diversity from a ‘material’ perspective (% of females; % of people from an ethnic background), other industries have taken a different route and attempted to create diversities by recruiting from different fields. To some extent, I believe having the perspective of STEM graduates and students in areas such as mining or corporate would enable better value to be created. For example, the financial consulting industry have attempted to recruit students from an engineering or mathematics backgrounds.

This is what diversity means for me: a diversity of opinions, beliefs and knowledge leading to actual value to clients.

Angus Murray (TLF QLD)

Diversity is fundamental to ensuring that the legal profession remains able to operate holistically – a mixture of minds, perspectives and opinions is often beneficial to clients. Although this answer will not going into the value of employment or engagement on merit, it is important to acknowledge that a desire for diversity should not perturb the value of merit.

In responding to the question, it is important to ensure that the question is not distorted. The fundamental element underpinning the question relates to equal opportunity and this is an inherently important aspect of society as a whole, not just the legal profession. In this regard, the legal profession does seem to have an unfortunate reputation of being dominated by uniformity (and this term is adopted with the intention of broadly including class, race, gender, sexuality and cultural discrimination).  

In my view, diversity programs are changing the legal profession but not because this is necessarily something that is “innovative” rather it is because diversity is desirable. Nonetheless, and as the question identifies, there is a fine balance that must be achieved between diversity for marketing purposes and diversity because it is inherently good.

Bianca Fernandez (TLF QLD)

Personally I find the need for “diversity programs” in the legal industry quite maddening. We should be inclusive because it is the right thing to do. There is a number of economic and efficiency reasons to justify why having a diverse workforce is important but beyond this, it is simply important for everyone regardless of their gender, race, sexuality or socio-economic standing to have a seat at the table.

Since becoming part of TLF, I associate the word “innovative” with something new and inspiring – perhaps this is not the correct use of the word- but I don’t believe in labelling everything ‘new’ as ‘innovative’. Do I think diversity programs are innovative because they are new to the legal industry? No – I think they are overdue.

I find I am unqualified to answer whether these diversity programs “actually” have any form of impact. I think diversity programs should be critiqued from the perspective of the people the diversity programs claim to serve. Whether the programs ‘change the legal industry’ is determined by whether people from diverse backgrounds feel they have entry to the legal market without barrier.

To answer the question; if a firm develops a diversity program purely for marketing purposes but the program has the effect of sparking conversation and promoting inclusion, then in my opinion the program is still valid and effective in ‘changing the legal industry’. As Angus Murray has said, there is a fine line to be drawn between diversity for marketing and diversity for inherently good reasons. I believe this line is often impossible to distinguish and I believe the programs are developed for both reasons.

Daniel Owen (TLF QLD)

Diversity programs are innovation… sort of

In short, law firm diversity programs are innovative if we define “innovation” broadly enough. Whether diversity programs actually “change ways” is more complicated.

Innovation… barely

To borrow Erika Ly’s (TLF NSW) winning definition of legal innovation from the last TLF Brainstorm: “legal innovation and innovation more broadly, is simply change for something new.”

Based on this definition diversity programs are innovation within the legal industry, but certainly not beyond it. Law firms are slow to adapt and what constitutes innovation to the legal industry does not amount to innovation outside of it.

Changing ways… some of them

In the context of law firms, there are two “ways” at play:

1.) the “way” of hiring practices; and

2.) the “way” of retaining structural control.

Hiring practices can be improved

Diversity programs can change hiring practices if they:

(a) are quantitatively and qualitatively effective;

(b) apply equally to all (as measured by traditional metrics like race and gender and sophisticated metrics like personality, style of thinking and upbringing); and

(c) are non-exhaustive (meaning they don’t prevent more being done).  

Diversity programs currently tend to measure effectiveness either qualitatively (ensuring fair process) or quantitatively (prescribing quotas). Neither approach is sufficient in isolation.

To be effective a blended approach should be used where the diversity program:

(a) focuses on the qualitative goal of removing cultural stigmas and systemic biases to enable equality of opportunity; and

(b) analyses quantitative measures of change in diversity (and any corresponding economic benefits) through traditional and sophisticated metrics.

Structural control is preserved

The chief concern is that law firms will use diversity programs as a way to stop striving towards deeper levels of inclusiveness (which is why diversity programs need to be drafted as non-exhaustive).

Diversity programs fall neatly within a historical pattern of drip-feeding minorities rights that should never have been taken away from them in order to retain structural control.

Realising the inherent limitations of diversity programs leaves us with two (2) options:

1.) propose the best possible model within this paradigm; or

2.) work to displace the current balance of power through innovative practice models.

I fundamentally believe that “and” is greater than “or”, and that as such we should be using both methods.

Recognise what is but strive for what ought to be

Whether diversity programs are innovative is a question of the scope given to the word “innovation”. Diversity programs are not equipped to challenge structural control, though if drafted to remove cognitive biases and measure the results, they can improve hiring practices.

Challenging an existing structural control requires disruptive innovation. In the meantime, we must operate effectively with the tools we have and demonstrate to the powers that be how economically beneficial a diverse workplace can be.

It is not by denying our own self-interests in favour of serving the common good that we will alleviate disadvantage. Rather, it will occur when we realise they are one in the same.

Michael Bidwell (TLF QLD)

Some people have told me my sexuality would hold back my career.  Others have told me they know ‘exactly’ how I will get promoted.  On top of comments like this, I am reminded every day that we do not have marriage equality.  I understand everyone has their own challenges but no one should ever have to question their value as a human being.  Sexuality, gender, colour of skin and heritage will always form part of who you are but they should never define who you are.

Law firm diversity programs are not innovative – they should just be the decency and respect we should afford every single person.  These programs should not focus on meeting percentages.  They should be tools to provide support, mentoring and education.

The real innovation is the people who persist in this industry without meeting the status quo – the people whose value is questioned considerably more than the straight white male.  We have to keep fighting to enable and empower people from diverse backgrounds to enter the legal industry because it is about damn time it reflected the diversity in society.  If you ever feel your value as a human being has been questioned, please never hesitate to reach out to me or a relevant community service.  I’m with you.

Molly Thomas (TLF QLD)

Diversity programs are a difficult topic to discuss because it’s often hard to be sure whether to talk about them in theory or in practice. I also worry because as a white woman, I’m in the group most likely to benefit from any type of affirmative action policy. This is something I’m concerned about as it means that LGBT people and people of colour aren’t able to benefit from a program which should be seeking to help them progress.

Responding to the question, however, in my opinion, diversity programs are not necessarily either ‘innovative’ or merely ‘bells and whistles.’ Regarding the first, diversity programs have been around in some form or another for some time and regarding the second, I think that ‘bells and whistles’ demeans the good work that is done when a diverse point of view is brought to the table and able to improve the working, social or cultural outlook of a workplace.

But on a personal level, diversity programs have been more of a hindrance than a help, due to their tendency to cause or exacerbate imposter syndrome. When I first started my law degree, I was cognisant of the fact that my OP was much lower than that of my classmates and that I had most likely got into law because I had been educated at a public school. In second year, when I got a research assistant job on a project connected with feminist jurisprudence, I worried that I had only got it because I was female.

The problem with diversity programs has always been the underlying effect on my sense of my intrinsic worth and how it has perpetuated this idea that I have only received the things I have received through less than legitimate means. It made me paranoid that other people thought the same of me. It made me value my contributions less because I was concerned that I was less qualified than other people.

So, perhaps true innovation in this space would be to have a diversity program that is able to operate without that level of consciousness of otherness. I don’t believe in pretending that everyone is the same but too much awareness of someone’s place as a ‘diverse’ voice can be isolating and harm their sense of legitimacy in the workplace, something that law firms should make a real effort to avoid.

Richard Gifford (TLF QLD)

Our profession has a reputation, at least in Brisbane, for being for the most part controlled and dominated by white privately educated conservative men – particularly when one considers the private bar and those briefing them. The culture seems to exclude – sometimes unapologetically – women, people of a different sexual orientation or of a different race, or anyone really who hasn’t had a fortunate upbringing during which their parents introduced them to the ‘right people’ – or are one of those ‘right people’.  This creates a problem for the profession as it can create a bubble in which intolerance is accepted, however in my view the more powerful barrier to locking people out of the profession is the tacit understanding among the legal fraternity that only a certain type of person be admitted.

This culture in my view highlights the need for some sort of innovation in this regard, but I confess to not having a view on whether or not firm diversity programs are doing enough in this regard or if they are indeed just ‘bells and whistles’. I don’t really think they’re innovative. They’re certainly necessary I think, in some form, and can be important tools in evening out the playing field for those who wouldn’t otherwise get a run  – and it’s not just the legal profession who have these cultural problems; medicine for example is just as affected – but firms and the profession more broadly can’t stop at these programs, the lack of diversity is so deeply rooted in our culture that a far more significant shift across the profession is required.

I echo something Clarissa Rayward and I spoke about the other day regarding the way law firms approach recruitment; we agreed that law firms should approach recruitment by valuing life experience as highly as an applicant’s GPA – if not more so – as that truly gives diversity in a workplace. The majority of us work in areas of law that affect real, everyday people, servicing clients who require a good ‘bedside manner’ to understand what life is like outside universities and top-tier law firms. These skills are not only valuable for ticking the ‘diversity box’ but they will actually make people better lawyers, and as a result more successful firms. If the profession realises diversity delivers better legal services (and I’m convinced it does), sterile-sounding strategies like diversity programs won’t have to be plugged; they will just be essential.

 

If you would like to submit or answer a question for our next TLF Brainstorm, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Matthew Burgess (View Legal)

Michael (TLF) had a chat with Matthew Burgess, co-founder and director of View Legal. View Legal is a specialist law firm, focusing on tax, structuring, asset protection, business succession and estate planning.  They are passionate about using technology to reach out to the community.  Matthew has also answered our upcoming TLF Brainstorm question so stay tuned for that!

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What is your advice for law students who aspire to work in a virtual law firm like yours?  How can they best equip themselves with the skills necessary for the job?

The skills to work in a virtual law firm are arguably no different to any other work environment, however, our experience is that they are brought into more sharp focus, more quickly than what might otherwise be the case.

Our experience has been that those that thrive tend to:

  1. enjoy work as a critical component of achieving flow (as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi);
  2. understand that purposeful work is a critical aspect of achieving flow;
  3. embrace the concept that work-life integration, rather than work-life balance or work-life siloing is the key goal – this seems to be easiest for those that have significant, non-negotiable, other life responsibilities (eg children or parents they are responsible for caring for);
  4. embrace the concept of making choices in each moment that lead to positive habits. Invariably, this involves choosing to do what must be done, as opposed to what is invariably ‘easier’ from moment to moment.

What is the biggest challenge facing the legal industry?

Without wanting to be seen to be avoiding the question, my sense of things is that the biggest challenge facing the legal industry is the number of significant challenges arriving almost simultaneously and creating what some might argue is a ‘perfect storm’.

In no particular order, the key challenges are extremely well-known, and while each of them in isolation is a serious issue, the combination of them is arguably unprecedented, namely:

  1. The first time in the modern history of law firms that it is a sustained buyer’s market.
  2. The pace of technology change outside the industry has for some time now been significantly faster than the pace inside the industry. The number of other adjacent industries where the incumbents have seen their protected position evaporate in a very short period of time means that it is difficult to build a coherent argument that the legal industry will not face a similar outcome in the short term.
  3. The steadfast refusal of incumbent firms to take any serious steps to adopt a new business model is almost comical for those outside the industry. Any firm that tracks time in any manner (other than the lag time between receipt of instructions and delivery of a usable solution to a client), ultimately, views all aspects of their organisation through a lens of chargeable units. While the industry continues to debate the issue ad nauseam, the firms that are growing exponentially left timesheets behind some years ago.
  4. There is then a myriad of other related impacts such as offshoring, AI, aggressive entry into the market by accounting firms and online providers, freelancing models, blockchain, augmented reality, big data and growing in-house teams.

Ultimately the Bill Gates quote is critical – ‘We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.’

How would you describe the difference between technological disruptions and innovative disruptions to the legal industry?

Certainly, in other industries, the technology disruptions have only ever been an enabler to the more innovative business models.

In other words, it is the application of the technology that drives the truly sustainable changes, not the underlying technology itself.

There are countless examples of this. The one that is arguably the most stark and easiest to understand is that Kodak had the technology for digital photography over 30 years before Instagram was created – the technology was not new; the application of it was.

Do you envisage a change to the structure of the legal market; that is a move away from the traditional boutique, mid-tier and top-tier categorisation of law firms?

There are numerous extremely insightful thinkers that have answered this question in great detail. For example, see the work of Richard and Daniel Susskind, Chrissie Lightfoot, Jordan Furlong, George Beaton and Imme Kaschner.

My personal view is that at least in the short term, the firms that will succeed are those that do not fail the ‘Stealer’s Wheel’ axiom – i.e. they are not ‘stuck in the middle’, see – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DohRa9lsx0Q

In other words, it is the firms that are extremely nimble (for example, many firms, of which ours is one, have business plans that last no longer than a maximum of 90 days) or exceptionally large firms that essentially ‘own’ the client relationship (the big 4 accounting firms are a good example) should both have sustainable businesses (although for differing reasons).

Firms that are not extremely nimble or absolutely in the very top tier (as defined by buyers, not a firm’s marketing team) are likely to struggle.

You have stated that the ‘disruptive business model requires funding, resource allocation and working environments that are significantly different from those of the traditional firm’.  Do you think we will see the larger firms with more funding creating disruptive business models whilst smaller firms struggle with a lack of resources?

Perhaps, counterintuitively, my personal experience has been that access to funding is one of the single biggest impediments to true disruption.

As The Legal Forecast has profiled on many occasions previously, Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruption (i.e. the innovators, or perhaps more accurately incumbents, dilemma) is largely based on the concept that incumbents with adequate resources find it impossible to compete with disruptive firms with inadequate resources, because the disruptive firms simply do not play by the same set of rules.

Some large firms in other industries have been able to beat this challenge through a variety of techniques (Apple and Cisco are 2 high profile examples), however all of those techniques require a way of thinking that is (in Christensen’s view) almost impossible for incumbent firms to embrace.

The theories here however arguably are not particularly new – essentially, they are an iteration on Mark Twain’s quote ‘The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him.’

View Legal is completely virtual and all team members enjoy flexibility around their work arrangements.  How important do you think flexibility is to the delivery of legal services?

For us, flexibility is a necessary, although of itself not sufficient, requirement.

While there is obviously a myriad of very important interrelated concepts, we generally refer to the ‘3 Fs’, being flexibility, fun and flow. Unless team members are regularly accessing each of the 3 Fs, then our ability to deliver outstanding solutions for customers is going to be tenuous.

What is a quote you often live by?

Yes – too many to list out here (indeed, every week, I publish at least one quote on Twitter, see – https://twitter.com/matthewwburgess?lang=en). Two of my books are also focused around key quotes, namely The Dream Enabler Reference Guide (see – https://www.amazon.com/Dream-Enabler-Reference-Guide-ebook/dp/B01BHOAJX0/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) which is in essence the original business plan for View Legal, and ‘Laws for Life’ – the link here takes you to a free download for this book – https://viewlegal.com.au/laws-for-life/, the password is – laws4life, (please delete any pre-populated password).
This said, I was reminded recently of the quote that I put in the yearbook on graduating high school, which arguably remains relevant, from Friedrich Nietzsche, namely ‘Without great suffering, there can be no great excellence.’  In other words, if disruptive innovation was easy everyone would be doing it.

When you think of the word ‘successful’, who is the first person who comes to mind?  Why?

This question is similar to the quote question – extremely difficult to answer.

In saying this, the first person I thought of was my wife Dyan. Whenever I think I may have too much going on, I never have to look very far to realise that I have it very easy.  She successfully combines her own business, running our personal investment partnership, raising our 4 children (aged 7 to 13) and mentoring me.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Elise Stephenson (Social Good Outpost)

Michael (TLF) recently caught up with Elise Stephenson, the PhD candidate, social entrepreneur, domestic violence prevention advocate and co-founder of the Social Good Outpost.  The Social Good Outpost is a creative design agency which works with non-profits, social enterprises and change-makers to bring social impact to the field of design.  In 2016, she was awarded the United Nations Association of Australia Community Award for her services to the community around domestic violence and women’s leadership, and she plans to use 2017 to bring to life her dreams of harnessing technology to solve gender inequality.

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Explain what an ‘equal employment opportunity’ (EEO) is and what it attempts to address.

EEO policies are part of an array of affirmative action measures designed to remedy past and on-going discrimination. These policies can apply to gender, sexuality, race, disability and other discrimination. In my line of work, they can be applied to improve representation of women in non-traditional roles and leadership positions. They can also help acknowledge that some people may be at the ‘intersection’ of multiple forms of discrimination, for instance, an ethnic woman who identifies as from the LGBTIQ community may face specific barriers to leadership than a Caucasian woman who identifies as heterosexual. EEO policies rely on overarching law (like the Sex Discrimination Act or Anti-Discrimination Act), as well as specific organisational policies and work environments. Most larger organisations will have EEO policies, however they may be applied at different levels and to different extents. They may include quotas and targets, mentoring and professional development programs, appeals and grievances mechanisms in the case of discrimination and harassment, and other measures specific to the organization.

Your research has shown that more developed EEO policies at universities in the Asia-Pacific region demonstrate more women in leadership but what are the limitations on this?

According to one researcher, Faiza Ali, in parts of Asia EEO policies represent “an empty shell or toothless tiger”. That is, EEO policies can often not exist, will be incomplete or will be improperly applied in practice. EEO policies are important for aiming to achieve gender equality in workplaces, however there are some key areas that present limitations on their ability to ensure equal gender representation. Firstly, good EEO policies often provide targets and measurable goals for gender representation, under the understanding that ‘what gets measured, gets done’. However, a lack of targets at one university in Hong Kong appeared to have a major effect on their ability to retain a minimum percentage of women in leadership, or provide a gender representation in selection panels and on boards. Secondly, transparency in promotions processes is integral to increasing women in leadership, largely due to the impact of longstanding sex discrimination, the persistence of old boys’ networks, and the prevalence for leadership to be associated with masculine attributes. Transparency can be achieved through clear criteria and definitions on leadership, and transparency on the way decisions are made. Yet, transparency was an issue frequently left unaddressed, particularly in the Hong Kong case, where back-door decision-making or guanxi (loosely translated as a network of relationships or getting things done through those you know) was employed. This can disadvantage women by not providing a clear and transparent path to leadership, as well as disadvantaging those with weaker social ties in work (predominantly, women). Thirdly, appeals and grievances mechanisms are key for advancing gender equality in organisations, and may include committees that can investigate and decide on matters of discrimination and harassment. However, if appeals and grievance mechanisms exist, they may be difficult to access or have social ramifications for individuals who access them, with many women being too scared to raise issues to a committee for fear of backlash or improper handling of their grievance. In Hong Kong, appeals and grievance mechanisms were only available to full- or part-time staff and students, with the EEO policy failing to acknowledge casual workers, which are mostly women. This can leave women exposed, even in a system where EEO policies exist.

At the end of the day, EEO policies are often more ‘reactive’ in preventing discrimination than ‘proactive’ in providing pathways for women’s leadership and gender representation. In fact, one pre-eminent researcher, Joan Acker, found that successful efforts to attain gender equality have been found to have a number of common characteristics: targeting a limited number of EEO objectives; combining social movements and outside legislative support with internal organizational support; and coercion or threat of loss if gender inequality is not addressed. While EEO has been effective in addressing forms of overt discrimination, covert discrimination and unconscious bias persists in organisations and suggests that a more complete approach may be needed. Rather than EEO policies being a complete method for achieving representation or equality, they should be one of several measures deployed by organisations in this important drive to gain equality.

In all your amazing work in the gender equality space, what have you found to be the most interesting or shocking revelation?

For the past five years I have worked heavily in the domestic violence prevention space, however it was only this year while researching for my PhD on women’s leadership that the link between domestic violence, women’s leadership and our prosperity as a nation was made so explicit to me. Simply put, higher levels of domestic violence is linked to higher levels of state conflict and insecurity. In international relations, the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness, is its level of violence against women. What this means is that women’s treatment, inclusion and representation in international relations isn’t just ‘nice to have’ or important to include because the United Nations says so, it is integral to the peace, security and stability of states. As Leidl and Hudson state in The Hillary Doctrine, “studies have shown that if domestic violence is a routine means of family conflict resolution, then that society is also more likely to rely on violence and to be involved in militarism and war than those societies characterized by lower levels of family abuse. There is a continuum of violence that runs from the household level to the national level”. What this says to me, is that the more we can tackle gender-based violence and domestic violence in Australia, the safer, more secure, and more prosperous we are as a nation in the world, and the more likely we are to have better gender representation in leadership, too.

Gender based violence discussion often focuses on heterosexual male against female violence.  Although we know this is the most common, how can we better form this discussion to include all survivors?

The gender-based violence you mentioned is incredibly important to understand, because it often forms the basis of other forms of intimate partner violence in our society. This has been a main occupation of mine alongside tackling gender-based violence – how we can include other communities in the discussion. Since 2013 I have been working with Dr Shannon Spriggs Murdoch at Griffith University to develop intimate partner violence prevention training and strategies for LGBTIQ communities. This type of violence could be between two women in a relationship, two men in a relationship, between someone transitioning from male to female, or vice versa, and their partner, and so on. While ‘gender’ is obviously different in this equation, it has been interesting to see how men’s violence against women often forms the basis of how LGBTIQ communities experience intimate partner violence. Regardless of gender or sexuality, violence is a tool used for purposes of power and control. For instance, some studies have found 41% of women in lesbian relationships have experienced forced sex with their current or former partner. You might immediately assume, ‘but they’re two women, they can’t hurt each other!’ or ‘we’re both women so we understand what the other one wants or needs’. When you delve behind the statistics, you see a lot of issues recur around what it means to be ‘in control’ or ‘powerful’, and how many of these notions are informed by traditional male masculinity – i.e. to be strong, to be in control, to be big, to be powerful, to be dominant, to be violent, to have the last word, etc. I also see a lot of people in the LGBTIQ communities struggle to recognize what violence is in their relationship, because there might not be many good role models, or they themselves might be of the assumption that because ‘gender’ is taken out of the equation, there can’t possibly be violence!

When I talk about domestic violence, I have started to get into the habit of talking about everyone as potential ‘leaders’. No one is a potential victim/survivor or a potential perpetrator. Rather, we are all leaders with the potential to be active bystanders where we witness or suspect violence, with an ability to not just change or challenge particular troubling situations, but also change our wider culture around violence. Men’s violence against women does predominate in Australia with the statistics clearly representing this. However, all communities experience violence, in multiple similar, and different, ways. What I’ve found is that people often just want their experience to be recognized, so talking about how domestic violence affects LGBTIQ communities or other communities and including their examples can be a powerful way of bringing everyone into the conversation about healthy relationships.

How have you seen technology be used to ‘close the gap’ and attempt to enable women to have the same opportunities as men in the professional workforce?

I think this is one of the great underutilized spaces for innovation – gender inequality is a space I would like to see more technology try to solve! Online training courses have been a way to address some things, such as the Queensland Government’s Boardroom Bootcamp Scholarship (http://getonboardaustralia.com.au/wp/boardroom-bootcamp-scholarship/) which has been supported by the Office for Women as a way of training women for board readiness. Further, the Office for Women and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) have both developed online gender analysis toolkits for organisations to assist in policy or program development, implementation and analysis. Outside of this exist few, but unique, ways technology can change the game. In India for instance is a comic book called Priya’s Shakti (http://www.priyashakti.com/), which features a female rape survivor-turned-superhero with the capacity to inspire and promote change. The comic book was developed after the gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. The comic book is aimed at young boys, designed to shatter taboos around gender based violence, and empower young girls to know that they are strong, important and have power. It uses technology in an innovative way, by incorporating augmented reality (AR) so that when you hover your phone over the comic book or one of the murals of Priya now dotted across India, the images come to life and videos of rape survivors, acid attack survivors and sex trafficking survivors pop up to tell their story. While not directly relating to equal opportunities in the professional workforce, this innovative way of using technology helps to create a culture which respects women and their contributions to society. This is important because we know that one of the best ways to improve women’s experiences in the workforce, is to improve women’s experiences in the home.

Time for you to save the world – what innovation in our society’s way of thinking would genuinely help create some gender equality?

This might not sound innovative per se, but I believe that genuine equality within the home would have one of the biggest effects on gender equality in every other sphere in society. Equally sharing domestic tasks such as caring for children, cooking, and cleaning would have a massive effect not only on how ‘unpaid labour’, currently predominantly undertaken by women, is valued. It would also give women more opportunity and time to invest in their professional lives, and more opportunity and time for men to invest in their families and creating prosperous home lives. According to the World Economic Forum, in Australia women carry the highest burden of both paid and unpaid work. Women do 483 minutes per day of paid work, compared to 476 minutes for men. Women also do 64% of all unpaid work per day, predominantly the caring responsibilities in the home. Combined with reducing domestic violence and calling out sexism where you witness it, equal sharing of work in the home generates a powerful pathway for creating gender equality which benefits everyone. Innovative thinking is that: no one gets harmed or brought down by gender equality. Genuine gender equality means that women, men and everyone in between, all benefit and will all be in better positions.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au