Column 916 - It's not that bad, except it is
Phew. Well. The topic of this column is the culture I observed in the legal profession and how the worst wrongs sit atop giant below-surface ice bergs of smaller wrongs gone un-examined. It's a topic that has been burning a hole in me for quite some time but one I haven't felt able to discuss. Which is kind of the point. (You can read it here.)
LawTalk dedicated its April issue to the issue of sexual harassment and law firm culture (YAY), and on the day it came out, the Dominion Post called to ask if they could write about it or do a video about it. But the point, for me, was that it took me a long time to find my voice on this issue, and I wasn't about to let someone paraphrase me or put it through their own filters. So I said no, and then they asked if they could run the whole thing as is. (You can read it in that form here.)
And then things really went a little crazy. It was terrifying to put the thing on a national stage, and my brain quickly got to work imagining all the invalidating, shaming, terrible things the trolls would say about me. Stuff kindly disabled comments on the piece and I am not on Facebook, but I assumed a hearty debate was raging about how I was making something of nothing, it was super annoying, and I really should be quiet.
But none of that happened at all. Instead I got calls, texts and emails from all sorts of women saying that the article affirmed their own experience, and they felt relief that they were not alone. Senior members of the profession reached out to me and either apologised for my experience on behalf of the wider community or asked for my input on how things might change. Several women told me they would be taking action of their own to better protect junior women and women in general in the profession. I am still receiving notes weeks later.
It feels like we are in a different time. I can't be sure I would have had that response if I had written the same article two years ago.
When crisis points like this flare in a community there is always going to be lip service and attempts to be seen to be addressing the issue, without the issue necessarily being addressed, especially when the issue is hard and complex and widespread like this one. But it feels like the conversation is much more motivated and practical and hungry for change than it used to be. For example, I am excited by the Law Society's charter for gender equality, a system that is practical and targets the complex factors behind failures in women's advancement and retention (unconscious bias work: YAY).
The conversation feels markedly different. It makes me hopeful.