It is depressing to read that more than 25 years since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act, and when universities are pumping out more female graduates than ever before, allegations of sexual harassment are being made by a young lawyer, Bridgette Styles, against a large Sydney law firm.
Many of us who have worked in law firms would love to say we are surprised by the news but, sadly, actual and anecdotal evidence would suggest such behaviour remains a part of life in a firm for many women.
When I was working in a large law firm in the early 1990s, some partners would take all the male lawyers in their team to lunch, leaving the female solicitors (with the secretaries) sitting at their desks with a sandwich.
Pregnant with my first child, I didn't get an annual pay rise that was awarded to all my peers. When I whinged to a male colleague the same age, he said in all seriousness, ''Well, why would you? You're leaving to have a baby.''
In a deeply competitive, dog-eat-dog environment, where a colleague's desk could be cleared overnight, we were too scared to challenge demeaning and insulting inequities.
The mantra fed to all young lawyers, who in turn learnt to behave like victims of Stockholm syndrome, was that we should feel so very grateful for having earned a place in such a prestigious workplace. We knew intuitively that complaining about conditions could lead to sacking, and most women lawyers would no doubt agree they felt the more vulnerable gender.
For many practising in the 1990s, Marea Hickey's decision to prosecute her case against Hunt & Hunt, when her fellow partners denied her the right to return to work on a part-time basis after maternity leave, was a seminal moment, especially for female lawyers.
It would, however, be fair to say that many of us paused, took a breath, and hoped like hell that women lawyers would not then be marginalised and perceived as a litigious impediment in the workplace.
Thankfully, conditions have improved. While some of the change in attitude is attributable to legislative reforms that have forced law firms - like all businesses - to adjust their employment practices, many firms have taken the initiative to actively develop ''family-friendly'' policies. They appear to have had an epiphany, realising that training, and then losing, some of their brightest women is detrimental to the business model and ultimately to their reputation.
As recently as this year, however, I heard of a case where a young (recently engaged) woman making budget was being managed out of an underperforming practice group in a large firm. In terminating her employment, the male partner told her that losing her job would not be the end of the world because she would soon be married and at home having babies. No doubt her colleagues who survived the cut stayed silent, smugly congratulating themselves for being tougher, smarter and better employees, and thus perpetuating the means-of-survival myth.
It is not unusual for relationships to form in the workplace, especially when colleagues work long hours, side by side. Law firms have always been notorious hotbeds for brief - and long-term - partnerships of the biblical kind. Feisty Friday night drinks are commonplace and other firm social functions often end with more than a hint of debauchery.
In the wash-up from these events, the water cooler talk the next dusty morning still tends to focus on flirtatious, drunken behaviour by women lawyers, not the men, when we all know it takes two to tango. What seems to be a badge of honour for a man is still a woman lawyer scorned.
Speaking out against injustices in any workplace takes courage, and for a young woman such as Styles to take on the might of a law firm - which has an obligation to know better under the Law Society's rules for maintaining a valid practising certificate - is a gutsy call. Especially when she, and many others before her, must be profoundly aware that even a judicial win may amount to a pyrrhic victory.
Emma McDonald is a lawyer and writer.
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