Barristers are essentially their own one-person business, such as dramatised with the legendary fictional figures of 'Rumpole of the Bailey' in Britain (en.wikipedia.org) and Australia's 'Rake' (en.wikipedia.org).
I am amused, however, to note that these may be considered irrelevant examples in this article about female leaders. The fictional protagonists in these show are (1) male; (2) on the seedy side of society and (3) never make it to the leadership position known as a 'silk' – in the UK it is Queen's Counsel (QC) and in Australia it is now called Senior Counsel (SC).
After this diversion to explain the role of barristers, I will return to the theme of women in leadership – in this case determined by those who attain 'silk'.
In 2012 only 9.3% of women barristers in Australia had achieved this honour. However, selection procedures have recently changed to become slightly more transparent and less of an old boy's club. If I revisit this theme in a few years' time, maybe this number will show some upward trending.
Qualified lawyers can also open their own law practice, and the stats indicate that this is a popular option for women. If we include women who are partners, principals, directors and those in sole practice the proportion rises 22% (compared with 15% in corporate law firms, and 9% barrister Senior Counsels).
Preference to own one's own business
There is also evidence that Australian women in the wider business community are preferring to open their own businesses, using their own expertise in whatever field they have, determining their own hours and workmates. Possible reasons that women become disillusioned with a company culture that does not suit their individual needs are discussed below, and were explained succinctly by Adele Horin, writing in 'The Age' in 2011 (www.theage.com.au).
Having been an active member of two different Chambers of Commerce for 20 years, I have observed remarkable local examples of entrepreneurial women who know how to run a business and make money. My wife has also seen the competence of women who put in extremely long voluntary hours, often involving money management, in such committees as P&C, Church Fete committees, children's sporting clubs, Scouts and Guides, community newsletters and a whole host of charities.
The competencies required are exactly the same as running a small business.
Reasons for the 'drop-out' rate at the top
In our society, for practical and emotional reasons, women do most of the family-based caring – whether it be for children, elderly relatives or family members with a disability. Many women are happy with this traditional role, even if they want to take some part in the wider commercial, academic or professional duties because they have particular skills, or because they just need extra activities outside the house to keep them healthy.
Add to this the position of many families, who have to choose where to live based on the career of one of the partners; and the fact that many mothers like to work close to where their children are at school (or where their own parents live), means that it is most often the woman who has limited choices about where she can find a suitable job.
These roles are important for the stability of our society, and are to be cherished and admired. It does mean, however, that for a lot of people, the stresses and time-constraints of high-flying positions in any area of our society are something they just cannot cope with. If they are also unhappy because of relationships in the workplace, or if they perceive that women are not given the same opportunities as less able men, then it compounds their desire to leave the corporate sector or company-based employment.
I have read many academic studies about why women often do not even apply for promotions or pay raises, and why they do not want to 'compete'; and in my long years of ministry I have talked to many women who express frustration in one area or another. But I believe most of those who desire to either leave the workforce, or opt for a slower-paced self-initiated business opportunity stem from these basic emotions.
These can apply to men as well as women. Not everyone who is gifted actually wants high-level leadership positions. Though this may have been a gender-equity issue with more restrictive rules and customs up to the1960s, I believe it is a more general human issue now.
In an outlying comment to finish this piece, and to make a link with a future article on the loneliness of those at the very top of the tree, I refer you to two recent articles in the Sydney Morning Herald. One indicates that if a man decides to take on more domestic duties – perhaps to support his high-flying partner - or perhaps because he wants to reduce the stress of the corporate culture every bit as much as some women do – then he is the one who is discriminated against. (news.smh.com.au)
The other gives stories about single fathers who are looked on with suspicion when they attend to the normal needs of their young children. (www.smh.com.au)
The broad brush
Yes, I have seen some of the promises of the youth of the 1960s manifest themselves in our society, helping us to make use of the 50% of our brainpower that is the female half of the population. But it seems we still have some way to go. We don't want to go so far in positive discrimination of women, that we disregard the needs of men who find themselves in non-traditional roles for one reason or another.
It is the freedom of families to choose the ways in which they divide up their roles in society, for themselves, without feeling the need to 'keep up with the Jones's' that is the biggest change I have seen through 36 years of ministry. We need to treat these choices with more respect in the future, even if they are different from the choices we make for ourselves.
These issues were well covered in a panel discussion in July, and rebroadcast on the ABC in January. (www.abc.net.au an edited version of a panel discussion from July 2012)
This is the challenge for the next generation. The statistics provided in these two articles (Part 1 and 2) show that social change can happen in a lifetime, if we are willing to provide support for all our citizens. Yet, in spite of all this, there remains a deep seated understanding of the separate needs of women and men (marriages/defacto) – Jan Croucher who has served with her husband Rowland in ministry for 50 years speaks for many women in her article on women: jmm.org.au
Next we'll look at the broader issue of loneliness when at the top, particularly from a pastoral perspective.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html