Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called on the legal profession worldwide to work together to tackle bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace, following the release of the International Bar Association’s (IBA) ground-breaking Us Too? report on the issue.
Gillard, who began her career as an industrial relations lawyer at Slater + Gordon in the 1990s and became the firm’s youngest partner at 29, addressed an international audience of lawyers in Seoul at the annual IBA conference in September. She gave the keynote speech at the showcase session on bullying, sexual harassment and barriers to diversity, having also written the foreword for the IBA report published in August.
“I congratulate the IBA on having the courage to release such ground-breaking and landmark research into bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession,” Gillard said.
“Eliminating bullying and harassment is morally right and will benefit both men and women. At the same time, it will eliminate one of the barriers that is jeopardising the development and promotion of female talent in the law and preventing women from coming through to leadership positions.”
Gillard spoke in her capacity as the new Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, based in London, which aims to “create a world in which being a woman is not a barrier to becoming a leader in any field, nor a factor contributing to negative perceptions of an individual’s leadership”. Gillard noted that the Institute was particularly interested in “deepening the evidence base” and working closely with the legal profession to build safer workplaces to encourage women’s progression and gender pay parity.
Eliminating bullying and harassment … will eliminate one of the barriers that is jeopardising the development and promotion of female talent in the law and preventing women from coming through to leadership positions.
Gillard joined a panel of experts from around the world, including Simon Davis, President of the Law Society of England and Wales and a partner at Clifford Chance in London; Hanim Hamzah, the Regional Managing Partner of the ZICO Law network with offices in 10 ASEAN states; and Pip England, a partner and board member of Chapman Tripp in Auckland, New Zealand. LSJ journalist Kate Allman, who has written widely about issues of bullying and harassment in the legal profession, chaired the panel.
All panellists agreed that lawyers had a vital part to play in the fight against bullying and harassment, as gatekeepers of law and legal standards in society.
“There is work for the legal profession to do, in advocating for laws to be adopted everywhere and for the legislation to be the best it can be,” said Gillard.
“With the combined expertise in this room, a real contribution could be made to creating laws that could work. With the goodwill in this room, pro bono cases could be taken that would set precedents for future behaviour.”