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‘Tokenism doesn’t help’ bridge inequality in leadership roles

By Jess Feyder | |7 minute read

Many businesses have a long way to go in bringing women into leadership roles. Here, three professionals working at an Australian law firm share how one can truly succeed in this area.

It is well documented that men in Australia hold the vast majority of leadership roles. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), women in Australia hold 32.5 per cent of management positions, 19.4 per cent of CEO roles, and just 18 per cent of board chairs.

The opposite rings true for some businesses, including law firm Macpherson Kelley. Out of 13 principal lawyers at the firm's Dandenong office, the majority (seven) are female.

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Speaking to HR Leader's sister brand Lawyers Weekly, Macpherson Kelley national HR manager Olivia Holmes said: 

“Our Dandenong office is a product of what happens when a firm lives and breathes what they preach.”

“Macpherson Kelley’s purpose is to support our people professionally and personally and, for many of our female leaders, this support has carried them from their early life and career through to the senior roles they occupy now.”

The office’s female dominance is unique in Dandenong, with the areas business sector mainly holding male-dominated industries, like manufacturing.

The managing principal lawyer overseeing the Dandenong office, Kelly Dickson, has made use of the firm’s Flex+ policy for 10 years to support her professional and personal responsibilities. 

Ms Dickson said that the mere fact that a managing principal lawyer can work flexibly, demonstrates to all staff that flexible work is not just an attraction incentive but an attainable reality.

“Let’s be honest, part-time work comes with its challenges, but I’m proud to show our staff that gender and part-time work status are not impediments to achieving career goals,” she stated. 

“Working flexibly is a team effort, and our Dandy office’s willingness to live our firm values and ‘play as a team’ is what makes it work for all of us.”

Out of the seven female principal lawyers and managers, five work part-time, and four have taken advantage of the firm’s parental leave policy at some point in their careers.

Longevity within the firm is also a point of pride, the firm said, with four out of the five female principal lawyers having been with Macpherson Kelley for over 12 years.

One of these is Belinda Sigismundi, who holds one of the highest client satisfaction ratings in the firm — much of which she credits to the firm’s ethos and culture.