On Tuesday 17 September 2019, the NSW Branch of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association in collaboration with Clayton Utz proudly hosted a special breakfast panel event - Women in Law: Lean In. This was the fourth event in AALA's inaugural Diversity Series 2019.
Coordinated by AALA NSW Committee Member, Stefanie Cheong, Lawyer, Clayton Utz and moderated by award-winning mentor and advocate, Jennifer Harris, Special Counsel, Clayton Utz, the event welcomed an impressive panel:
§ Kounny Rattley, Partner, Clayton Utz;
§ Keshni Maharaj, Special Counsel (Partner from 1 January 2020), Clayton Utz; and
§ Erika Aligno, Advocate at Inner City Legal Centre, Content Manager and Freelance Content Producer.
Warmly opened by Ken Saurajen, Partner and cultural diversity lead at Clayton Utz, the partnership with AALA reaffirmed the firm’s strong commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace for its people.
The AALA NSW Secretary, Marija Yelavich, provided a welcome on behalf of AALA. The theme of the morning was “Lean In”, promoting AALA’s commitment to intersectional diversity and the key message: humans must lean in to support each other…by openly sharing our stories, struggles and journey, we lean in. We learn that we are in fact not alone!
Jennifer openly and warmly shared her own personal story about being a working parent, whilst navigating and excelling in her legal career. As special guest, NSW Law Society President, Elizabeth Espinosa, noted, the panel also discussed the importance of flexible working arrangements and the important role that partners, such as husbands, have played, in particular when choosing to be the stay-at-home parent in the relationship.
Discussing key themes such as mental health and healthy relationships in both the professional and personal context, the panel’s key pieces of take-aways for the audience were as follows:
o Take ownership and control of your career. I was hardworking but was otherwise quite passive when it came to my career and didn't think or plan too much when it came to the bigger picture. However I learnt that you need to not be passive and take control.
o If it [your career] doesn’t feel right, make sure you have something on the side so when you’re ready, you will have that skillset.
o Know when to rest: this will be the time to ask questions. You can work hard, but you need to rest. And also know when to quit.
o Embrace and cherish your networks. While your ‘professional network’ is important, those who support you personally are those who you need to cherish. Also build your internal, ‘at-work’ network and support each other. This really helps with building resilience in your legal career.
o Law can be an isolating career if you let it. Connect with your community. It is worth putting the time and effort in building your own sense of belonging to pave the way for a rewarding and sustainable career.
Sharing their stories with a room filled with all genders, the panel acknowledged and paid tribute to the history of sacrifice and resilience that made today possible. AALA acknowledges and pays tribute to the recent passing of The Hon. Jane Matthews AO. Without the leadership of such women, the legal profession would not be what we celebrate today. Whilst we must continue to push for change, welcome diversity and lean in, this event was a true testament to how important it is to understand that we are not the first, we will not be the last and as one woman rises, we all rise.