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NSW Launch of the Cultural Diversity Focus Groups Project: Pilot Outcomes Report 2022

On Thursday 10 November, King and Wood Mallesons hosted the official launch of the Cultural Diversity Focus Groups Project: Pilot Outcomes Report 2022.

Together with the Women Lawyers Association, the NSW Branch of the AALA led this Pilot Project to gather data to better understand the barriers to career progression faced by culturally diverse solicitors in NSW.

The Project was successfully coordinated by two AALA NSW Committee Members: Barrister Lee-May Saw, and 2022 30-under-30 Recipient / AMP Legal Counsel Michael Tangonan, with the assistance of the Advisory Team and key volunteers which consisted of:

  • the Honourable Melissa Perry of the Federal Court of Australia and Patron of the Hellenic Lawyers Association, NSW Chapter;

  • Jenifer McClean and Catherine Duff, both of the Australian Human Rights Commission;

  • Jane O’Leary, Diversity Council of Australia;

  • Helen Macpherson, Baker McKenzie;

  • Sarah Khan, Past President of the Muslim Legal Network;

  • Cathy Kim, Women Lawyers’ Association;

  • Jasmine Feng, NSW Branch (AALA);

  • Tom Lee, NSW Branch (AALA);

  • Emma Wei, NSW Branch (AALA);

  • Sam Haln, NSW Branch (AALA); and

  • William Zhou, NSW Branch (AALA).

Our Project Coordinators also extend their thanks to Katrina Rathie, Inaugural NSW Branch Patron, Marija Gurlica, NSW Branch President, Dora Cheung, NSW Committee Member, and Maggie Chan of King and Wood Mallesons and her wider team for their ongoing support in coordinating the Pilot Project and the special launch event.

The Report is based on two sets of data: data collated from a state-wide Survey, open to all practising NSW solicitors; and, a Focus Group.

The Survey was released in February 2022 and closed in June, and was circulated via the Monday Brief’s platform of the Law Society of NSW together with other social media platforms hosted by AALA, the Women Lawyers’ Association and the Muslim Legal Network.

The Focus Group was hosted by King and Wood Mallesons on 7 July 2022, with the assistance of the facilitators, including Shelley Goswami; Arielle Cirillo; and, Lyndal Gowland.

While the absence of data should not be seen as a barrier to progression, the presence of collated data and research certainly solidifies the core objective of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association: to advance cultural diversity in the legal profession. The Report is a collaboration between so many organisations where advancing diversity of being, thought and culture are at its core. It is a powerful result that reaffirms that more must be done not only to elevate Asian leadership but also to create genuinely inclusive workplaces.

To discuss the outcomes of the Report and the implications of the data and stories collated, the AALA welcomed the AALA National President Molina Asthana and the following special guests on the night:

  • the Honourable Tom Bathurst KC, Keynote;

  • Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan;

  • Mariam Veiszadeh, CEO Media Diversity Australia and Founder of the Islamaphobia Register;

  • Dr. Alanna Kamp, Academic, Western Sydney University and project coordinator of a report reviewing the Asian Australian’s Experience of Racism during the COVID 19 Pandemic;

  • Jahin Tanvir, 2022 Young Australian of the Year Finalist; and

  • Sonia Gandhi, Advisory Board Member, Multicultural NSW (who could not attend on the night).

Our panel was chaired by the vibrant, Katrina Rathie NSW Branch Patron, who navigated the intense themes raised by the Report including workplace racism, barriers to reporting and the important role of language in changing attitudes and advancing progression.

In attempting to discuss some type of practical solution, Commissioner Tan suggested that perhaps the solution adopted to tackle the gender gap can be applied to the issue of cultural diversity. This was caveated with a word of encouragement that "firms themselves have to lead their own solutions, including tackling the distrust of clients noting that culturally diverse lawyers thrive in an environment that is safe and inclusive, free from harassment or harm."

In discussing the outcomes of the Report, Dr Kamp commented on the parallels between the results of the Report gathered from the small data pool, and the results of the large-scale research she has led over the last decade or so. Dr Kamp comments that the Report reflects the results, themes and outcomes of the large-scale results which is a positive testament to the Pilot Project.

Led by data, Dr Kamp commented on the correlation between experiencing racism and poor sense of well-being and mental health, noting that 42% of participants in her study who experienced racism at work did not report it (and this includes not even telling a friend). By internalising these negative and sometimes traumatizing experiences, there are ongoing consequences and our whole panel reaffirmed the importance of reporting all experiences of racism - no matter how brief, seemingly insignificant or little you know about the other person(s).

In discussing these barriers to reporting, Mariam Veiszadeh shared that this is one of the direct reasons she started the Islamaphobia Register noting "the lack of photos, bruises, names or other details should not be a barrier."

When asked about the power of the conscious use of direct language, such as actually saying the word "racism or racist", Mariam Veiszadeh shared her own experiences reflecting on the power of language commenting that calling out racism takes courage and this is why we need to be bold, build allies and have transparent frameworks to "call it out."

In discussing the courage required to call racism out, Jahin Tanvir shared that in preparing a TEDX Talk he was actively advised not to talk about racism;- that he would not be able to get employed if his 'calling out' mentality or behaviour went on the public record. Jahin Tanvir noted here that fear is also another barrier, and it's fear within our own diverse communities and institutions that limit the progression of our wider society.

In reaching question time, NSW Branch President Marija Gurlica also reaffirmed the importance of being an activist not only in the office or in the CBD, but continuing your activism in your church community and in your home. Tackling intergenerational and institutionalised racism begins at home, participating in those difficult conversations with your elders and including a diversity of culture and thought in your conversations, playtime and books read with your children.

While the panel discussion perhaps could have gone for the entire night, the event certainly triggered a clear passion in our audience. We encouraged our participants and audience to be bold, build allies and be a changemaker in whichever capacity possible and suggested that this energy could be invested into organisations such as the Asian Australian Lawyers Association which as a volunteer and non-for-profit organisation, needs your passion to continue projects and conversations such as this!

We again duly thank our Project Coordinators Lee-May Saw, and Michael Tangonan, the Women Lawyers' Association, and King and Wood Mallesons for their genuine support of and interest in this Pilot Project.

The NSW Branch wish to note that this is a Pilot Project and we hope that this research can be built upon in the coming years on a national scale so that the stories of all our culturally diverse colleagues can be shared, more evidence can be collated, and action and funding can be targetted and tailored.

View and share the NSW Pilot Outcomes Report.

It can be accessed on the AALA Publications page on our website, which features all of our ground-breaking publications throughout the years including the Foreign Qualified Newsletter!

To join the AALA NSW Branch, please register as a Member and join us at our Annual Branch Meeting on Monday 21 December 2022, or at an event or Committee Meeting in 2023! We offer individual memberships and corporate memberships, including special rates for students, offering flexibility to how you invest in AALA. Your membership goes directly to funding the work of AALA, a national and not-for-profit organisation run completely by hard-working and ambitious volunteers.

Be the change and join us in 2023.

Photos from the Launch Evening:


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