Monday, September 22, 2014

51%! Is It a Level Playing Field?

Reproduced from the Malaysian Bar website
 
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Saturday, 20 September 2014 10:33am
Article and photos contributed by Goh Siu Lin, Vice-President, Association of Women Lawyers

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On 26 June 2014, the Association of Women Lawyers (“AWL”) launched the findings of the “Baseline Study on the Working Conditions of Male and Female Lawyers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor” at the Kuala Lumpur Bar Auditorium.

This baseline study, the first of its kind, was first mooted in 2011. It was only in 2013, after sourcing for funds and finding suitable researchers, that the baseline study was finally initiated, by AWL in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia, “SUHAKAM”) and Women’s Aid Organisation (“WAO”), and funded by United Nations Population Fund (“UNFPA”), Malaysia.

Empirical data was collated from a random selection of 198 lawyers to ascertain the working conditions of male and female lawyers within the Klang Valley. Dr Lai Suat Yan (Chief Consultant) led the research team, which included Dr Nurjanaah Chew Li Hua, Dr Sarina Mohamed, and Dr Kuppusamy Singaravelloo as the statistician.

AWL President, Meera Samanther, delivered her welcoming address and gave some insight on how the baseline study had come about. This was followed by a PowerPoint presentation by Dr Lai Suat Yan summarising the findings of the report, ending with an interactive question-and-answer session.

ImageA short ceremony ensued for the official presentation of the Baseline Survey Summary Report by Meera Samanther to Christopher Leong, President of the Malaysian Bar; and Dipendra Harshad Rai and Vishnu Kumar, Chairmen of the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee and Selangor Bar Committee, respectively. Also present at the launch were academia and law students of the University of Malaya, non-governmental organisations, friends and members of the media.

Women lawyers represent 51% of the Malaysian Bar. Statistically, this validates the position that the recruitment of women into the legal profession is fair. Once in the profession though, do equal opportunities abound and are their voices heard? The report provided a comparative view of the careers and compensation of men and women lawyers, tracking the professional progress and advancement of women lawyers at all levels of private practice, including senior roles as equity partners and leadership roles. Women start out in about equal numbers to men when they enter law firms as first-year associates, but the numbers diminish at each level of seniority, shrinking the pool of women lawyers, who are severely under-represented at leadership levels.

The report examined factors that influence career progression, levels of gender bias, salary levels, whether practice areas were affected by gender stereotypes and societal expectations, impact of family obligations or having children, sexual harassment and awareness (or lack thereof) of the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and the complaints mechanism adopted by the Bar Council.

AWL looks forward to working with the Malaysian Bar to eradicate gender inequality, and in this regard, to:

(a) implement meaningful, concrete steps that assist women lawyers in advancing to more senior levels in greater numbers;

(b) conduct awareness campaigns on gender-based discrimination within the legal profession and the existence of the sexual harassment complaints mechanism adopted by the Bar Council. Victims of sexual harassment should be provided with the necessary emotional and legal support during the whole process so that this does not remain a toothless mechanism;

(c) recognise the impact of family commitments on working mothers and for measures to be implemented, such as part-time / flexible working arrangements for both men and women, to enable them to share in the care-giver role; and

(d) introduce gender-sensitisation programmes for all lawyers entering the legal profession, to train young legal minds to be more respectful and sensitive to the opposite sex.

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The AWL Baseline Study Summary Report is accessible here, and the Final Report is accessible here.

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