10/08/2004 - 22:00

The business of management

10/08/2004 - 22:00

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The business of management

For many women in the legal profession a largely inflexible workplace and management structure has proved a barrier to a long-term career.

Some choose family over work, others have supportive spouses that make juggling family and work possible, while others set up their own practice so they can work to suit their needs.

Rosemary Waldron-Hartfield, on the other hand, is working with the system from the inside.

Two years ago Ms Waldron-Hartfield was given the opportunity to create and manage the Perth office of a national firm, Sparke Helmore.

The Perth office now has 20 staff and is one of the fastest growing in Western Australia, according to Ms Waldron-Hartfield, who has a clear passion for management.

“Being a good lawyer is exciting, but being a good manager and making people’s working lives easier is also really great,” she said.

“The skills to be a good lawyer are very technical, and the skills to be a good manager are very different.

“The primary objective of most businesses is to make money, and in all businesses where women are in management roles, the profits are better.

“I have found it very intellectually and personally satisfying to be in management.”

Ms Waldron-Hartfield estimates that she spends half her time managing the firm and is clear on where she wants the firm to go in the future.

“Nationally we have 630 people in the firm and I want to at least double the size of the Perth office within the next five years to become a medium-size firm,” she said.

Ms Waldron-Hartfield started her studies at UWA, and completed them in Adelaide in 1981, where she practised for 16 years before returning to Perth.

While in Adelaide she started a firm with two other women, who have gone on to be the managing partners of the Sydney and Adelaide Sparke Helmore offices.

“We didn’t intend it to be an all-female firm, it just happened that way, and we created quite a stir,” Ms Waldron-Hartfield said.

While she said Sparke Helmore was a dynamic firm with a good percentage of female partners, she acknowledged that the retention rate of lawyers was a major problem for the profession.

“It is incredibly expensive to have someone leave the workplace, and if you can’t encourage them to come back, you have lost a valuable resource,” Ms Waldron-Hartfield said.

“This particularly applies to women who go on maternity leave.

“When law firms have a true business focus, women will be well looked after and promoted because it will ultimately improve the bottom line.”

Having made the deliberate choice not to have children, Ms Waldron-Hartfield believes that women can “almost” have the package of a good career and family.

“Women with children expect so much of themselves – they expect to be perfect mothers, wives and lawyers – but they ultimately pay a price somewhere, usually with themselves and their own time,” she said.

“The way the profession is going, we will see a lot more men wanting to work part time, or working from home too.

“You just have to make the workplace adaptable if you want to retain staff.”

While Ms Waldron-Hartfield knew a number of women who had been both openly and subtly discriminated against during their careers, her own experiences had largely been positive.

She said there had been major changes in the profession since her student days, remembering particularly a speech by Sir Garfield Barwick in his capacity as chief justice of the High Court.

“He was rather discouraging about women in the profession, which made me really think about my career,” Ms Waldron-Hartfield said.

“I think there has been a really big change in the profession since that time, though.

“There are just so many successful, talented women, and they don’t go out of their way to self promote at all – I think men are far more skilled at that.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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