Gendered meritocracy? Women senior counsels in Australia's legal profession

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Abstract

Workplace gender inequality is an ongoing and systemic social problem. Despite women's entry into professional occupations, the 'glass ceiling' effect persists. With Australia's legal profession traditionally exhibiting a masculine workplace culture, championing meritocratic values, Women Senior Counsels (SC) represent an elite social group which has apparently 'smashed the glass ceiling' by achieving career success. Informed by Marxist-feminist theory and Symbolic Interaction theory, this article uses qualitative email interviews and courtroom field observations to explore professional norms about meritocratic ideals and workplace stereotypes regarding success. The findings reveal that female Senior Counsels have, in keeping with broader social trends, rejected masculine 'successful barrister' stereotypes, and are substituting meritocracy for traditional 'masculine' competency measures. This substitution may illustrate semantic reallocation more than genuine social change. However, as our findings reveal, Australia's legal profession upholds standards of meritocratic competency grounded in masculinity, whereby barriers to true workplace gender equality remain largely invisible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian Journal of Gender and Law
Volume1
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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meritocracy
legal profession
workplace
stereotype
interaction theory
social problem
gender
qualitative interview
substitution
masculinity
social change
equality
occupation
elite
semantics
career
trend
Values

Cite this

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abstract = "Workplace gender inequality is an ongoing and systemic social problem. Despite women's entry into professional occupations, the 'glass ceiling' effect persists. With Australia's legal profession traditionally exhibiting a masculine workplace culture, championing meritocratic values, Women Senior Counsels (SC) represent an elite social group which has apparently 'smashed the glass ceiling' by achieving career success. Informed by Marxist-feminist theory and Symbolic Interaction theory, this article uses qualitative email interviews and courtroom field observations to explore professional norms about meritocratic ideals and workplace stereotypes regarding success. The findings reveal that female Senior Counsels have, in keeping with broader social trends, rejected masculine 'successful barrister' stereotypes, and are substituting meritocracy for traditional 'masculine' competency measures. This substitution may illustrate semantic reallocation more than genuine social change. However, as our findings reveal, Australia's legal profession upholds standards of meritocratic competency grounded in masculinity, whereby barriers to true workplace gender equality remain largely invisible.",
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