Despite the implementation of policies and procedures to redress the gender imbalance at the higher echelons in Australian corporate law firms, only a paucity of women successfully tread the path to equity partnership. In this article, it is argued that it is the systemic, rather than the overt, barriers that present the major obstacle to sexual equality within the corporate legal workplace. Neo-Marxian thought, in particular the work of Charles Derber on the proletarianisation of professional workers, as well as contemporary feminist thought, is utilised to explore why profoundly gendered assumptions in relation to the 'ideal worker' norm remain deeply embedded in the mindsets and attitudes of those organising the legal workplace. It is suggested that fear of change to work practices within firms has not only an ideological but also a material base. It is economically determined. Highly trained women lawyers with family work responsibilities who take up flexible work arrangements in firms are fulfilling a proletarian role and their under-utilised labour is being extracted to increase profit share at the apex and facilitate the progress of their unencumbered colleagues along the path to partnership.
Field of Research
180121 Legal Practice, Lawyering and the Legal Profession