KWM: difference is our strength

For many years, King & Wood Mallesons has been committed to diversity and inclusion. The firm believes its people need to be as diverse as its client base so, in working closely with these clients, it can deliver a service that responds to and reflects their own diversity.

Gender equality and achieving gender balance across the firm is one of King & Wood Mallesons (KWM)’s core strategic priorities. The firm is focused on empowering women from the very beginning of their careers by removing barriers and biases and having structures in place that allow women to progress at the same rate as their male peers.

KWM has a range of initiatives that support gender equality and a more balanced gender representation across its teams. Most recently, these initiatives include [email protected], which involves a systemic review of its equal- employment-opportunity policies and learning modules, informed by firm-wide conversations about what a respectful workplace should be.

KWM also has locally run gender equality network groups, known as “GEN-KWM”, in each of its five Australian centres and a partner-led gender working group responsible for implementing initiatives that foster opportunities and remove obstacles for women – including a sponsorship programme for high-potential female lawyers. Broader diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies and programmes complement these gender equality- specific initiatives.

As a firm, KWM has a target of 35 per cent female partners in Australia by 2022 and 40 per cent by 2025. Currently, 32 per cent of its Australian partners are women – an improvement on historical numbers but with more work to be done.

The firm has a deep, broad and diverse DCM team in Australia, including two female partners, two female special counsel, four female senior associates and five female solicitors. The team also draws upon many talented and diverse female practitioners from other areas of the firm. These female DCM lawyers share their views with KangaNews on topics ranging from past experiences to aspirations.

What has been your experience of diversity at KWM?

ANNE-MARIE NEAGLE PARTNER I am the Australian board’s representative on KWM’s dedicated working group on respect and gender equality and, as a woman and a mother, I am passionate about creating a gender-equal workplace. This gives me the opportunity to lead from the front and also to see inside the firm’s thinking on these issues – supporting gender equality and diversity is central to our goals and identity. Diversity makes us stronger, and better able to deliver for our clients and people.

JO DODD PARTNER I am lucky to be standing on the shoulders of many great women who have come before me at KWM – especially Anne-Marie Neagle, who has always inspired me to stay the course and forge my own path. Historically, the legal profession has not been known for its flexibility or family friendliness. But I can truly say that KWM has supported me through many years of working flexibly and juggling work and family responsibilities. 

Our DCM team comprises mostly women. I’m proud of where we are today and I try my hardest to encourage women to promote themselves, back themselves and do this job in a way that suits them. We have shown through the pandemic that flexibility comes in many shapes and sizes, and that our DCM team is strong and diverse.

KATHRYN TOMASIC SENIOR ASSOCIATE KWM has a diverse workforce, and I think this is ultimately a source of strength for the firm. KWM has demonstrated its commitment to diversity across all levels, producing some fantastic female role models. I have never felt pressure to fit in to a particular mould at KWM and have witnessed first-hand the value differing viewpoints can bring in delivering the best results for clients.

CHLOE DELAHUNT-DEVLIN SENIOR ASSOCIATE As a Canadian who qualified in England and Wales, and worked in London and Hong Kong prior to moving to Australia, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of diversity in the workplace.

I believe a diverse workplace benefits our personal and professional development, helps challenge viewpoints, limits bias and produces better-informed decision-making. I am grateful to work in an environment that embraces difference and I feel fortunate to be part of such a welcoming team with a large and supportive female cohort – and great male team members.

TIFFANY HA SOLICITOR The KWM DCM team is predominantly female, with many of the solicitors coming from Asian backgrounds like myself. As such, I have never felt my gender or ethnicity to be a notable point of difference in my interactions with the team. I have always felt welcomed and included.
Most of our clients are also based internationally and come from diverse backgrounds. As an international practice, diversity forms part of our daily experience at KWM.

LAURA HOLMES SOLICITOR KWM is actively committed to ensuring its ideas, products, and community footprint resonate with the rich social fabric of modern Australia. I should know, I am on the cultural diversity working group.

JENNY GUO SOLICITOR Diversity is clearly championed at KWM. As a woman of Asian decent, I have never felt like I have been treated any differently from others or had fewer opportunities made available to me. KWM’s leadership team has done a really good job at creating a culture that celebrates the different types of contributions a person can bring to the firm, which attracts a naturally diverse group of people.

How has your experience of diversity changed during your time at KWM?

NEAGLE When I think back to my early days in the industry, more than 20 years ago, the current landscape is almost unrecognisable – and I am thankful for this.

But there are still many more improvements we can make. Although firms have adopted great flexibility policies in recent years, we need to ensure we all implement and apply these policies in such a way that we can make them part of our life, not just something we talk about.

We need to harness the opportunity and momentum created by the recent spotlight on gender issues in the workplace shone by the important work of Kate Jenkins, the shift in community expectations and the recent lived experience of flexible working through COVID-19 to ensure the conversation on gender equality and diversity continues, and further improvements are made.

ANGELA CHUNG SPECIAL COUNSEL Great progress has been made during my time at KWM to encourage women in the early stages of their careers to gain the confidence to progress through the ranks. This includes initiatives such as mentoring, networking and flexible working.

Having Sue Kench as global chief executive demonstrates that women are performing increasingly senior roles.But there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure more exceptional women are attaining these roles.

SHIRLEY ZHANG SOLICITOR Seeing women excel and lead within KWM and across the wider industry has been impactful. As a junior lawyer, being able to speak with role models and mentors about their experiences and perspectives, and engage in meaningful dialogue on the question of what else can be done to champion diversity, has been encouraging.

How has support for women and diversity at KWM been important for your career success?

BRIANA BENTLEY SPECIAL COUNSEL Incredibly. The fact that it never occurred to me that I would not be able to take time out to have a family, that if I worked part time I would not be able to do what I love or that I would somehow have to choose between my career and the rest of my life speaks volumes for the support for women and diversity that is part of KWM’s culture.

HILARY YEOH SENIOR ASSOCIATE A career highlight for me was my promotion to senior associate last year. It was special to mark many years of hard work and perseverance with this career milestone.
I attribute a lot of my career success so far to the opportunities I have had to learn from and be mentored by the senior lawyers and partners in my team on a daily basis.

LOUISE YUN SOLICITOR The members of my team have different backgrounds and life experiences, and this richness means I have been provided with invaluable life and career advice from those around me. I work with some of the best and brightest females in the industry.

Without these people constantly supporting me, not only in my day- to-day work but also in my career ambitions, I would not have been able to get the cross-border experience and foster the relationships I have now.

GUO Support for women and diversity has given me extra confidence to take opportunities and not shy away from challenges, as I know I will succeed or fail based on my own merits. I am lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of a diverse group of women and men who worked hard to make sure everyone at KWM is provided equal opportunity to develop their career without needing to worry about how their gender or ethnicity may affect it. What is your vision for supporting women and diversity in DCM and what role would you like to play in this?

JIE ZHANG SENIOR ASSOCIATE I think, in the true spirit of diversity, there should be support for all people regardless of identity or individual characteristics. There should also be recognition without bias. I want to lead by example and encourage both men and women to support each other.

HA The KWM DCM team has a number of women in senior roles – including partners, special counsel and senior associates – with many of these women also being parents. For me, it is important to have these peer connections as role models of what is possible in my future career. 

YEOH The best way to support women and diversity is to lead by example and demonstrate what is possible for young lawyers coming through. I have benefited from being mentored by women in leadership positions throughout my career and I hope to pay it forward by sharing my experiences, particularly as a woman of Asian background, with the next generation.

CHUNG The challenge is to find ways to provide flexibility in our working arrangements while striving to build an engaging and fulfilling career. From a personal perspective, I have always tried to lead by example with the goal of being a good role model, particularly as an Asian female and a recent mum, to perform at a high level and to promote my strengths. My hope is to motivate a team of young lawyers to strive for their best.