Sharleen's Blog

Sharleen Shergill – is studying law and communications at university. Photo: Courtesy of Sharleen Shergill

Why don’t we have more female leaders?

Dated: 14 October 2017

Author: Sharleen Shergill

In a law class at my university in New Zealand, we recently discussed the scarcity of female lawyers in high positions. In the back of my mind, I always knew this was an issue but I didn’t realise how big it was until I did some research. Most of the people now joining the profession are women, so there’s no problem there. The New Zealand Law Society says that in 2013, 61.8 per cent of new legal professionals were women. The real problem arises with representation in senior positions.  In 2015, at the country’s biggest law firms, 49.3 per cent of the lawyers were women. But only 21.7 per cent of partners or directors were women. (By the numbers). Another issue is that more women than men are leaving or want to leave the legal profession.

Perhaps women are not applying for higher-level jobs or want to leave because the workplace culture values productivity and women are seen as likely to leave to go have children or to prioritise family over work. These attitudes need to change and become more accommodating. Jessie Jarvie, a legal counsel at Orion Health, showed how this can be achieved. In 2014, Ms. Jarvie said that after having a child, she found it difficult to go back to work because she couldn’t find the right childcare facilities. However, after proposing the idea at work, she was able to set up an on-site facility for company employees. This sort of flexibility not only benefits employees but also increases their job satisfaction and thus productivity. (Finding a way through the corporate jungle gym- A young mother’s solution).

Photo: Courtesy of Sharleen Shergill

I was recently elected the first female president of the Mooting Society at my university. Even though most members of my new executive team are female, it took a lot of convincing and encouragement to get young women to apply. I have had similar experiences in other clubs I have participated in. When I encouraged women to apply for positions, I would get responses such as, “I don’t know anything,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’m not good enough.” Compare this to the males--they apply with confidence even though they might not be the right person for the position. One of the females may be better suited for the position, but if they don’t apply, then obviously the male ends up getting it. For example, in 2015, out of the 85 applications received for Queen’s Counsel, only 19 were from women. (The rank of Queen’s Counsel is awarded to barristers who have demonstrated excellence in their careers.) And that was the largest number of applications ever received from women in any round. Even though the proportion of female applicants improved from 2013, when there were 116 applications and 16 were from women, it shows we still have a long way to go (Women in leadership).

In a recent Mooting Society competition, I was the only female among the four finalists. Again, it got me wondering why this was. The finalists were those people who had received the top marks in previous competitions during the year. Looking at the list of competitors, I saw that most of them (no surprise) were male. I have always been the type of person who stands up for what I believe in and puts myself out there even if I’m not 100 per cent sure what the outcome will be. And I am always looking for ways to do more. Why don’t more women get out there? Is it just because of differences in personality? Is it because some women feel inferior or “not good enough”? Is it because of their past experiences? Does the way the media portray women play a part as well?

It’s time we provide women with the encouragement they need to succeed, and it should start earlier--before they even go out into the workforce.

Sharleen Shergill is studying law and communications at university. She believes that it is important to raise awareness about gender issues and that in order to bridge the gender gap, we all need to work together.