KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Law Society (SLS) is rolling out Malaysia's first charter for the advancement of women in the legal profession as part of efforts to encourage gender equality.
The charter also includes provisions for law firms to tackle sexual discrimination and bullying as well as for law companies to put in place structures for women to progress in their careers.
SLS president Roger Chin, in a joint statement with SLS women and children's sub-committee chairman Mary Gomez, said that the charter includes provisions towards establishing fair and transparent sexual discrimination and harassment complaints processes.
Chin said all law firms can sign up to the charter which will demonstrate a leadership commitment towards removing gender bias and discrimination in the legal workplace.
"It will drive a change in the legal profession by developing a culture that supports the retention and promotion of women from all backgrounds.
"It would also be implementing recruitment and promoting strategies that include gender diversity and gender pay equity as important considerations and promoting mentoring and sponsorship of women in the legal profession," added.
Furthermore, he said signatories would be committing to encourage and facilitate flexible work practices to support a better balance of professional and other commitments ensuring that sexual harassment, or any form of bullying in the workplace was not tolerated.
"It would also establish procedurally fair, safe, accessible and transparent sexual discrimination and harassment complaints processes.
"And also establish training to protect complainants from victimisation, encouraging bystanders and others to report and ‘call out’ offensive and intimidating behaviour," SLS said in a statement Tuesday (May 18).
The charter was part of SLS' ongoing work to address sexual harassment in the legal workplace and drive positive change through its policy work, advocacy and regulatory functions.
According to Chin and Gomez, the decision to bring a special charter for women was because SLS found that the legal profession was still male dominated.
"This brought along a very male culture, as well as the inability of the profession to truly accommodate women in the profession to enable a balancing of expectations in family and work for women," they added.
SLS felt that the charter was necessary even though in recent years, the percentage of women entering the legal profession has far outweighed that of men but on closer look, men still outnumber women.
"SLS had conducted an informal survey identified some of the reasons for the legal profession to still be very much male-dominated," they said, adding that male domination was also due to longer number years in practice.
He said the charter voluntarily enacted would help address "male dominance" in the legal profession.
"The charter in the legal profession as one of its first initiatives to ensure women who choose to be in the profession are given a real and not merely an illusory option to remain, contribute and thrive in the legal profession.
Chin said the charter aims to achieve this by assisting the legal profession to develop cultures which promote diversity and inclusion, prevent sexual harassment and bullying." he added.
"That will impact positively on all practitioners in their place of work, resulting in better business outcomes for the legal profession and the community as a whole," both Chin and Gomez said in the statement.