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Russell Kennedy panel event explores Gender Equality in the Workplace

This article has been covered in Lawyers Weekly here.

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From left to right: Victor Harcourt, Adam Fennessy, Sarah Manly, Sarah Gruner and Marika Hubble-Marriott.

A gender equality panel was held in Melbourne at Russell Kennedy Lawyers on Thursday 1 June with guest speakers:

Representatives from the Victorian Bar, water boards, government in-house legal teams and individuals from the private sector attended the lunchtime session in Melbourne.

The panellists discussed ways to work together to achieve a significant and sustainable improvement in the gender balance.  The session provided a unique opportunity to hear from three different perspectives regarding gender equality in the workplace.

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Victor Harcourt welcoming the panel and guests to the event

Victor Harcourt, Principal at Russell Kennedy Lawyers welcomed guests and spoke about the firm’s commitment to a workplace with policies that support and promote gender diversity.

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Sarah Gruner presenting

Sarah Gruner opened this critical panel discussion in observing that the corporate sector is a clear leader in gender balance in Australia, but we need to look outside of our own environment at the overall statistics to get a clearer picture.

The statistics tell us that Australia has fallen ten places in a year on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, which measures gender inequality in nations.

In Victorian, Women in Australia are earning 88 cents in the dollar, compared with their male counterparts and there is still a 44% superannuation gap between women and men.

The gender gap in the legal profession is even more stark:  women make up to two-thirds of law graduates, yet occupy less than one-quarter of senior leadership positions.

Sarah was encouraged by the use of initiatives in organisations that make a difference to the way people think. She is a supporter of organisations undertaking gender auditing, “as the first step in creating the case for change”. We need to be guided by the information that comes out of this process as it is a true reflection of an organisation’s commitment to gender equality.

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Adam Fennessy presenting

Adam Fennessy spoke about his own experiences in flexible work arrangements and driving gender equality at DELWP.

His vision for DELWP was to reflect the communities it serves, through a diverse, inclusive and gender equitable workforce. At DELWP they set and achieved 50/50 gender target for executive roles by July last year, and he is mindful of maintaining this balance. In order to do this Adam recommended being attentive to the talent pipeline and creating clear models and paths to progress women to senior positions.

Adam addressed the Water Board Chairs and CEO’s in the room when he spoke about the recent push for gender balance on the 19 Water Authority Boards. The unprecedented changes were made to achieve “diverse boards that are high performing, safer and more engaged”, but he did acknowledge that it was not without controversy.

In his role as a Victorian Male Champion of Change Adam initiates challenging conversations about gender equity and believes it is everyone’s business: “We are all responsible for making gender equity a reality in our workplaces and this change needs to be led from the top”.

His final comments to the audience were around the large amount of work still to go, “progress is not success”.

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Marika Hubble-Marriott presenting

Marika Hubble-Marriott spoke about the initiatives undertaken by Russell Kennedy Lawyers to address gender equality in their workplace.  On International Women’s Day this year a formal Gender Equality Strategy was launched by Russell Kennedy with Kristen Hilton, Victorian Equal Opportunity Commissioner, as guest speaker. The strategy recognises the importance of having a gender-diverse workforce and Russell Kennedy’s commitment to gender diversity, balance in leadership, career lifestyle and opportunities. 

Marika said that she was excited that the corporate sector is “now having sophisticated and nuanced discussions about gender balance”.
However, to uncover the real gender norms that are perpetuated Marika asked the audience to do some homework on their own organisation and see what a leader at their organisation looks like. 

She introduced to the audience the concept of merit mirror and encouraged everyone there to make an appraisal and have the courage to assess the system, culture or biases that exist. In doing so in their organisation, Marika believes you will start to understand the cultural and structural roadblocks to gender equality.

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Sarah Manly presenting

Sarah Manly, Principal at Russell Kennedy Lawyers and Co-Deputy Convenor of the RKWN, spoke about the steps undertaken by Russell Kennedy over the past 18 months to progress gender equality.

These include the launch of a formal Flexible Workplace Practices Policy, formalising a Male Champions of Change Committee, Family Violence Leave Policy and Parental Leave Lunches for both female and male employees returning to work.

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