Promoting diversity for future prosperity and a better profession
(Words by Jerome Doraisamy, photography by Miles Standish)
Upon his election to the role of president of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) in 2013, Reynah Tang told the Law Institute Journal that increasing Australia’s awareness of the significance of Asia and its culture would be vital in order for the legal profession to take proper advantage of the “seismic” geopolitical changes that are to shape the world in the ‘Asian Century’.
“These changes impact on the profession of law generally, particularly for younger lawyers,” he said at the time.
“Is the future about always staying in the same location and town, or are you now part of the global profession and you’ve got opportunities outside of Australia?”
Improving the legal profession’s ability to adapt in changing times and a globalised economy is but one of Reynah’s goals, which aligned with a much broader desire to see increased equity and diversity of opportunity in the Australian profession.
Speaking recently with Lifetimes in Law , Reynah said that his awareness of the need to promote equity didn’t really emerge until he reached more senior roles in the profession, and started noticing the lack of diversity at the top.
Once elected as LIV president – the first to hail from an Asian Australian background – he wanted to expand the scope of conversations about diversity in the law.
“I felt we needed to have a broader discussion around diversity, covering ability, indigenous issues, sexuality, culture and so forth,” he explained.
“There hadn’t been as much focus on those areas, and we thought it important to broaden the discussion.”
The theme for Reynah's presidential year was "embracing change and diversity in a dynamic and evolving legal profession". During his year at the LIV, Reynah oversaw a number of diversity initiatives, including the LIV's reconciliation action plan for 2013 to 2015, a law firm roundtable on best practice in diversity, the LIV's campaign against homophobia and the establishment of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association (of which he was the inaugural president).
And while that discussion on diversity continues to evolve there are, he noted, still challenges in delivering real change in the profession. There continues to be a lack of recognition of diversity in the legal profession as being an issue across a range of backgrounds, such as gender, culture, sexual orientation, and disability, rather than just one or two of these issues. Further, there is a lack of data on the levels of diversity in the profession – particularly with regards to culture.
But Reynah is hopeful, based on the work being done to counter these challenges.
“The emergence of a number of associations focused on diversity in different areas(such as the Asian Australian Lawyers Association on cultural diversity, Muslim Legal Network on religion and the LIVOut group at the Law Institute of Victoria for sexual orientation) has been helpful in getting legal organisations to recognise that diversity is a broad issue, and they are also a focal point for efforts to improve the data on levels of diversity in the profession,” he explained.
“But more can and needs to be done within individual legal organisations to promote diversity, like the cultural diversity initiatives adopted by a number of large law firms earlier in 2017 and, on data, I think there needs to be a whole-of-profession survey to establish proper baselines.”
There may still be a way to go, but increased advocacy by Reynah, the LIV and others has coincided with numerous appointments of persons from minority backgrounds, including recent appointments of persons from Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Muslim backgrounds as magistrates in Victoria.
While Reynah has now stepped down as president of the LIV and the AALA, he remains committed to the cause of diversity.
“I’ve found it to be quite rewarding to be able to see signs of change that you can bring about if you’re more active and out there advocating for whatever you’re passionate about,” he concluded.
There is also much that can be done by emerging lawyers, who hail from diverse backgrounds, to help promote – on an individual level – the benefits of a diverse workplace.
“Take the opportunity to accentuate your strengths, including the benefits for your legal organisation of your diversity,” he suggested.
“For example, how it will help you in building a client base, and your legal organization in attracting and retaining young lawyers.”
Copyright Doraisamy, Field and Standish 2016-2017