There are many talented women and Aboriginal people, it’s just a matter of stoking the fire, the managing partner of Dwyer Durack tells Peter Klinger.
What was your biggest career break?
Having the opportunity to be part of the management of a 100-year-old law firm with such a long and proud tradition, as well as being the first Aboriginal woman and first woman to be the managing director at Dwyer Durack. I am a Nygina woman from the Kimberley and I started my law degree as a mature age student in 1996. I would not be in this position if not for an indigenous student alternative entry program called Koora Kudidj at Murdoch University. (While) I was studying to obtain my law degree I was awarded the John Koowarta Scholarship, won the Commercial Law prize and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours). Then in February 2000, I joined Dwyer Durack where I now head up the general litigation and commercial department.
Describe your leadership style.
I want to be out there showing the way, not just dictating orders from inside an office. I have a warm, nurturing and open approach because, having been a legal secretary before becoming a lawyer, I know what it’s like to be part of a team. You need the detail-orientated, behind-the-scenes person as well as the professional network and wisdom of more experienced practitioners who may have held leadership positions in the past. I have drive, ambition and determination and like to be a role model for others.
Most memorable executive moment?
For 100 years Dwyer Durack has attracted the brightest and best minds with a social conscience and (the firm) is still seen in the market as the people’s law firm because we focus on representing individuals rather than being there for the big corporate players. So continuing this culture as a leader and mentor is my most memorable moment.
Biggest challenge facing women in the workplace?
We’re fortunate that at Dwyer Durack these challenges resonate with our culture of who we are and what we stand for. In that regard, we are known as being very progressive in providing a very female-friendly workplace with lots of opportunities for growth. The three challenges facing women are finding a balance between family and career, creating a work environment where gender is a non-issue and opportunities to be in leadership roles. All these can be overcome through mentoring, workplace support and treating everyone as equals based on their abilities.
Best way to improve workplace productivity or morale?
The original firm motto was “good lawyer for the underdog” and we like to reinforce this culture to build productivity and morale. Dwyer Durack prides itself on its progressive employment policies. We support our staff in achieving an appropriate work-life balance. We believe this leads to a more sustainable practice with higher productivity and morale among our staff.
Do you use social media? If so, how?
LinkedIn is the best social media platform for a legal services firm and we have engaged an outside expert to educate our staff on the benefits and how it can help build a legal practice. Lawyers are naturally cautious about social media and have been trained to analyse the risks so we have had to change this mindset through education. We believe that LinkedIn is a business tool that can be very powerful for building connections and relationships. Meeting people face-to-face though is still important and core to what we do.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love taking long walks by the river, kayaking, cycling, reading and spending time with family and friends. I also love to travel.
Best holiday destination?
I love the South West. There are beautiful beaches, vast forests, fabulous restaurants and fantastic wines from the wineries in the region. It is all so accessible from Perth that a weekend away to enjoy the region is a real possibility and I don’t have to wait for annual leave.
Last book you read?
My Story, by Julia Gillard.
Why are there so few Aboriginal people in corporate leadership positions?
Being a past convenor of the Law Society of WA’s Aboriginal Lawyers Committee, I’ve seen first hand the challenges Aboriginal people face in the workforce. I was also a mentor and tutor to Aboriginal law students while I was studying at Murdoch University so I know how bright Aboriginal people are. Aboriginal people face substantial educational disadvantage in the university and school system and many are isolated in regional areas, leaving them without development opportunities. This results in a serious lack of role models and mentors and less opportunity for exposure to the few role models and mentors there are. That makes it more difficult to become corporate leaders. The only way this is going to be addressed is through more educational opportunities linked to employment and mentoring systems. The talent is there. It just needs to be kindled and developed.