The following address was delivered by CPLE Co-Chair Professor Nick James at the ‘Women in Law’ Event hosted by the Bond University Asian Law Students Society at Bond University on 24 February 2022.
I will admit that each year I am asked to open the Women in Law event, I feel a little uncomfortable. I’m never sure what to say.
I am a white, hetero, CIS gendered male. I believe that at the present time, when so many voices are finally speaking out about the ways in which they have been and are disadvantaged by a system that was designed to benefit and prioritize white, hetero, CIS gendered males, my role, and the role of those like me, is primarily to keep quiet and listen.
So what should I say when I am – like so many other white, hetero, cis-gendered males – given a platform from which to share my views with an attentive audience? I suppose I should – like so many other white, hetero, cis gendered males – share my personal, entirely subjective take on an issue of which I have no direct experience. However, unlike those others, I am going to try to refrain from presenting it as objective truth, as better than your experience, or in any other way that might be construed as mansplaining
So. This my experience.
I have had and continue to have the privilege to work alongside many intelligent, experienced and hard-working women: as a legal practitioner, as an academic, and as an Executive Dean. And I have seen women who are much smarter than me, with more experience than me, and who work much harder than me somehow end up earning less money than me or holding less elevated positions in the corporate or institutional hierarchy.
I have reflected on my own professional success to date and while I would love to kid myself that the only reason I am the Executive Dean of the best Faculty of Law at the best University is solely the result of my many years of hard work, my wise and informed career choices, and my innate brilliance, the reality is that I am also where I am today because of opportunities and privileges that I may not have been given were I not a white, hetero, CIS gendered, male.
It is never as explicit as ‘You are getting this promotion because you are white’ or ‘You are being offered the job over the other applicant because you are a man’. It is much more subtle than that. I had more time to do research because I was not caring for my elderly mother. I could travel to more international conferences because I don’t have to take kids to school every day. I could work late every night because I didn’t have to rush home to cook dinner for a large family. And it is surely not a coincidence that on those occasions when I have been appointed to a role, or been granted a promotion, or awarded a loading, it was often the case that the person making the decision in my favour was also a white, hetero, cis gendered, male.
This is also my experience.
I have observed the well-known phenomenon of women bearing the burden of having to care for others to a greater degree than men. This is a burden sometimes imposed by others and sometimes self-imposed. Whether it is the women in my family and within my friend groups, or the women I get to work with and interact with professionally, it is my experience that they are more likely to be obliged to balance work related responsibilities with the need to spend time and effort looking after others, whether that be children or parents or family members or even colleagues in the workplace. I am not saying all of the women I know face this challenge, just as I am not saying that none of the men I know have carer responsibilities. I am saying that it is my personal experience that there seems to be more women than men who bear this burden.
And this is my experience.
Despite the enormous progress made in recent years in questioning, challenging and undermining traditional gender roles, I still see many of the hetero couples in my life adopting those traditional gender roles at home. He works, while she cleans and cares for the kids … and also works. And while it is usually older couples that cling to those stereotypical roles, it is also the case that the people in the senior positions in organizations and institutions are often of that generation. And professionally I have seen and still see roles and responsibilities allocated at both the macro and micro level in such a way that on the surface it appears gender neutral, unforced and organic but somehow results in most of the high profile, individualistic responsibilities – chairing the meeting, writing the report, authoring the book – falling mainly to men and most of the lower profile (but just as important), supportive roles – taking the minutes, organizing the conference, supporting colleagues, caring for students – falling to women. Not always – not all men! – but often enough that over time there is a clear pattern. I suspect all this contributes to the well documented gap in pay between the genders.
I’m very much looking forward to hearing what our wonderful panel of guests have to say about this issue.
To view recordings of the excellent panel discussion that ensued, please click here.