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A time to reflect on inclusion in the workplace

A time to reflect on inclusion in the workplace

By Maddy Hearn

Workplace Relations 

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*For the purposes of this blog, inclusion in the workplace is defined as a situation whereby a workplace allows all employees to feel equally involved and supported in all areas of the workplace, irrespective of their role.

Victorians have spent the majority of the past 16 months in some form of lockdown, isolation or government enforced restriction. Inclusion has faced a significant hurdle and, arguably, taken a back seat in the list of priorities in the legal industry.

Employees have spent this uncertain time predominately on Zoom or Teams, making it difficult to push an agenda for inclusion.

Given the economic pressures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring freezes and company restructures have been at the forefront of workplace agendas, as opposed to inclusion initiatives.

What are the key contributing factors? 

The rise in unemployment and change in working environments across Victoria are two key contributing factors to the stagnant progression of inclusion.

Victoria’s unemployment rate decreased by 6.1 per cent in 2020, the same year the legal industry halted clerkships, enforced hiring freezes and reduced hours of employees in some instances.

The pandemic has seen many of us shift to a home/work environment, with a majority of law firms supporting flexible work arrangements. It is accepted that working from home is the future of workplaces, fostering a greater work-life balance than the traditional model.

The positive effects of flexible working are profound; however, the growth of inclusion initiatives, promotion and policy has suffered as a result.

These changes highlight the shift in focus of law firms since the pandemic began. They make it difficult to prioritise inclusion.

Ultimately, the pandemic caused a loss of momentum and with lockdown 6.0 underway, it is clear that COVID-19 and its restrictions will continue to impact workplaces for the foreseeable future.

What roles are impacted?

While inclusion initiatives positively impact all employees, those at key development stages of their careers, such as students and clerks (where in-person contact is vital), profoundly benefit from inclusion initiatives.

It is my experience that younger professionals are the ones that tend to feel the adverse effects of working from home.

The more senior and established lawyers may find themselves thriving in the current climate as they are able to run files without assistance, but this will depend on the person.

It will be interesting to see how the upcoming generation of lawyers adapt.

What will inclusion look like in the future? 

To spur the growth of inclusion in the workplace, law firms must prioritise their initiatives. The legal industry must adapt, and create and promote awareness of inclusion practises in the remote environment. Transparency will be needed.

We have recently seen law firms increase remote hiring processes and clerkships, which is a key aspect in adapting to the remote future of workplaces. The industry must embrace these initiatives to enhance inclusion.

This blog is an opinion piece by Maddy Hearn, lawyer at Tisher Liner FC Law.

 


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