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The winner of the 2019 NSW Young Lawyers Golden Gavel competition shares her vision for a different kind of managing partner.

Have you ever noticed how much work gets done when the managing partner is out of the office? Although we’re all jealous while they’re out at that boozy, schmoozy lunch, aren’t we all slightly relieved that we can actually get on with our work?

Our managing partners are holding us back. If the point of business is to get work done, we’re certainly not doing it when they’re around. Instead, we find ourselves sitting in meeting after meeting, discussing how to bring in new clients when we could be out there actually getting new clients.

The person leading any business to success is certainly not its managing partner. They’re just the ones with the title and the glory.

That being said, it’s a title (and glory) I’ve had my eye on for quite some time. But apparently leadership spills are a lot harder for a law grad at a start-up law firm than they are for Australian political parties.

But I wasn’t giving up. I had to find out what managing partners had that I didn’t. Why were they put “in charge” when it’s people like you and me doing the heavy lifting. I looked into it.

After a visit to LexisNexis, which involved too much case law, too much text and way too much reading, I resorted to a much more palatable source: a Google image search.

As I scrolled through the results, it became obvious exactly why I wasn’t a managing partner.

Manging Partner google search

I know what you’re all thinking. It’s because I’m not … old. Just kidding. It’s because I’m not white. Or male.

We’re clearly suffering from a lack of diversity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with old white men – some of my best friends are old white men (that’s not quite true, but I do know one or two).

But really? Every managing partner? Did you know that 5.6 per cent of the Australian population is Chinese Australian? And 2.8 per cent is Indian Australian? Is it too much to ask that for every 100 managing partners we see 5.6 Chinese managing partners and 2.8 Indian managing partners?

Let me tell you about one person who has managed to break through.Macquarie Group’s appointment of Shemara Wikramanayake as CEO last year made headlines for being their first-ever female CEO. Every time I went online and every time I picked up a newspaper (I mean, that one time), I would see FIRST FEMALE. CEO. BREAKING BARRIERS. FEMALE. WOMAN. FEMALE.

Okay. She is more than just a woman. She is a Sri Lankan woman. And she well and truly shattered that glass ceiling. Or, as my colleague and I like to call it, the pappadum ceiling. Not as see through, but slightly tastier. And goes well with mango chutney.

Shemara Wikramanayake is not the only woman trying to add some spice to a milky white world. You may or may not have noticed, I bear some similarities to Shemara.

She is a woman, I am a woman. She is Sri Lankan, I am Sri Lankan. She is a successful CEO, I will also one day be successful … and a CEO.

But speaking of my plans, I have a a dream – a dream that one day every managing partner will be from an ethnic background, that we will stop selecting managing partners because they are white and male. That we will start selecting managing partners because they’re not white and male.

I will be raising this with my CEO. As you are all aware, LegalVision is a progressive law firm, having won the Boutique Diversity Law Firm of the Year in 2015, a highly coveted and prestigious award that no one has ever heard of. That award could be yours, too. All it takes is for us to start recognising those on whom our firms are built and who are brown. Let my dream be your dream. For I dream of the day that my Google search results for managing partner look like this:

Manging Partner google search2

This is an edited extract of Dhanu’s speech delivered on 17 May. For a chance to be published, send 500 words on a legal topic of your choice (fake news, monologue, heckle, commentary) to [email protected]