Tina McAulay 3As part of our International Women's Day celebrations, Women Lawyers of Western Australia Inc are sharing the inspiring stories of the Women of Western Australia. We began by sitting down with WLWA President Tina McAulay to discuss what International Women's Day means to her.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Tina McAulay and I am the President of Women Lawyers of Western Australia Inc. I am a lawyer, I am a mum, I am a daughter, a sister, an aunty. I am a mentor, I am a mentee and I support and promote the advancement of women.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day means a day to not only celebrate the achievement of women, of women’s progress, it is about continuing to strive for equality, it means standing up against inequality and it means listening to the influential stories of other women and supporting women on a global scale. Start small, aim high, achieve.

Did you do anything to commemorate IWD? If so, what did you do and why?

I commemorated IWD by posting about IWD on social media. I attended and chaired the High Tea for women lawyers hosted by The Law Society – aimed at addressing gender inequality. I attended the launch of International Women’s Day by the Minister for Women’s Interests, the Hon. Liza Harvey MLA and I have been preparing for the WLWA Honours dinner for Friday 13 March 2015 to coincide with IWD to celebrate the remarkable achievements of women in the law.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women in the law and the administration of justice?

There are so many. To start, unconscious bias is probably the biggest challenge. Unconscious bias is not just by men, many women also are unconsciously bias towards men because the profession is so largely male dominated. Educating the profession and addressing this is important. Women face prejudices in salary equality. This is challenging when men with the same level of experience as you are receiving more money without justification.

Flexible work practices and career advancement is another big challenge. The Government has come a long way, but private practice needs to ensure flexible practice and not being available 24/7 or in the office for 10 hours a day is mainstream. The work/life balance and changing the culture of the profession away from the need to be in the office for long hours is essential. Minimum conditions of employment need to be created. Employers need to be held to task. Expecting employees to be in the office for long days every day has an effect on the mental health and wellbeing of the profession. The Government has awards to govern this. Private practice needs to catch up. I commend those organisations that already have flexible work practices in place, well done.

As for the administration of justice, there are plenty of challenges women face in getting access to justice. Education of cultural diversity in all courts is important. Providing adequate facilities to women in courts is important, including child care facilities, breastfeeding facilities and separate waiting areas for victims of crime – it is abhorrent that women have to sit in the same waiting areas as their attacker while they wait for their matter to be called. The Gender Bias Taskforce Review Report looks at these issues in more detail, including the challenges women face in crime.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women in the legal profession, and do you think the challenges change as a woman’s career evolves?

Some of the biggest challenges facing women in the legal profession I have dealt with already. The challenges definitely change as a woman’s career evolves. For example, as a junior practitioner, you face challenges of working long hours and pay disparity. As your career develops and you have children, you face challenges of balancing work and family – which is particularly difficult if you are expected to be in the office for long days – that means you are away from your children for 10 plus hours a day if you work full time and may not even see them awake. Other challenges are whether you can either afford to work flexibly or part time or if your employer allows it. I think it is generally known if you reduce your workload you face difficulty being promoted and advancing at the same rate a counterpart would that has continued to work full time. As you get older, caring for parents, school events etc. have an impact. Also, lacking the energy to keep working those hours has a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing and is physically draining.

When and how did you first become aware of these challenges? Were you aware of this issue at law school?

I was somewhat aware of these challenges at law school but it doesn’t really hit home until it happens to you. Having children and being able to juggle everything is a real challenge, especially when you are running your own business and involved in numerous committees, playing very active roles. I have learnt that as much as I have tried to be superwoman, it really is challenging.

What do you think the legal profession can do about some of these challenges?

The legal profession can address this by promoting the advancement of women. This includes briefing more women at the bar, especially in complex litigation. They can ask for women to junior senior counsel. They can account to the profession for their briefs to women and adhere to the model briefing policy. The bar could also introduce a clerking system similar to that used in the Eastern States, so that work is divided up. Obviously in WA you face the added challenge of having to find your own work, which really leaves you to get the small work from the small firms because unless you have a promoter in the profession to introduce you to the big firms and clients and give you challenging work, it will be a long time before you get there yourself. Particularly having promoters will help achieve this.

Despite the obvious answer, what role do you believe other women have in promoting other women in the workplace? (See following article: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/time-for-mean-girls-to-put-away-knives-and-aid-equality-20150306-13x07z.html)

Women have an important role to promote other women in the workplace. Men do it to other men, so why don’t women do it enough? There has been a lot of focus in recent years about mentors, but not about promoters. The He for She campaign and male champions of change are all great initiatives to help support women’s advancement and it is a community issue. The CEO’s for Gender Equity is another initiative to help support women at senior level. However, if women don’t support, encourage and promote other women, it just makes it even harder to get ahead. Lawyers are naturally competitive, but that doesn’t mean other women should be mean. Grow up, support, encourage and promote the advancement of other women and you will feel much better for it. What you get out of helping someone is much better than the feeling you get from being mean.

What steps do you think an organisation can take to cultivate a flexible work practice?

There are many steps an organisation can take to cultivate a flexible work practice. Organisations include universities, government employers – including the Courts providing part time or flexible judicial appointments, private practice and in-house. Professional bodies also have a role to play in promoting, supporting and encouraging flexible work practice. Some of the steps include:

  • Move away from a 24/7 availability

  • Encourage employees to work remotely

  • Move away from time billing, focus on deliverables (it doesn’t matter if that work is done in the office or at 10pm at night at home – what matters is the result and productivity)

  • Be flexible and your employees are more likely to be flexible with you

  • Be collegiate and communicate about flexibility

  • Have policies, there is a policy you can adopt on The Law Society website if you don’t have one already – be open to negotiation – what works for one might not suit another

  • Support, encourage and promote the advancement of women – it’s good for business – look at your business cases, can you improve them?

Do you believe there are biases against people who work part time/ flexibility and if so, what are they and what can you do to change this?

There are biases against people who work part time or flexibly, but these biases may be more unconscious than conscious. For example, it may be seen that they don’t put in enough effort. The consultations from the GBT Review Report show however, that most women who work part time or flexibly actually give more time and work than they are getting paid a pro rata rate for. The prejudices are because of a lack of knowledge or understanding. Change the culture of thinking everyone must be in the office from 8am to 6pm. People are most productive at different times. Be accepting of contributions people make and be open to new ways of achieving those outcomes. Create a diversity representative in your workplace – to help articulate some of these issues and assist flexible practice. You will find it isn’t always the women that want to work flexibly. It should be part of everyday practice.

Editor's note. Tina and the rest of the WLWA Committee will be attending the annual Honours Dinner tonight to continue our International Women's Day celebrations. Keep your eye out for updates on who the deserving winners are on our website, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. We would love to hear from our members and find out what YOU have been doing to commemorate International Women's Day?

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