A Fijian lawyer says being “an intelligent woman of colour” is a curse and she experiences racism in the industry every day.
A recent Law Society workplace environment survey shows more than a third of Pacific and Māori lawyers have been bullied in the last six months.
But in the last three years, the society has only received six complaints of racism in the law profession.
New Zealand-born Fijian Janet Mason, a senior legal counsel with Pacific Law, says she’s been working in the industry for almost 20 years and every day faced some form of racism.
“So I will say something, it will be a submission or an argument, and the person who I am speaking too, whether it be a judge or an employer, will come back and say ‘Where did you get that from?’
“Now, the implication behind that is that I just wouldn’t have the wherewithal or the competence or the intelligence to think of ideas myself,” she said.
People often made degrading remarks to her, she was given fewer opportunities and she had to work harder, she said.
She felt she had to be rude and aggressive to be heard.
Ms Mason will not leave the industry – she loves what she does and said she was likely to experience racism wherever she went.
But she said the law industry was worse than other sectors.
“It’s an absolute curse, being born with an intelligent brain and determination and perseverance and all these other things into a body that is coloured and is a woman,” she said.
Mike Mika started working in the law industry in the early 2000s after playing for Samoa in two Rugby World Cups.
At the beginning of his career a client refused to work with him because he was Samoan.
“I couldn’t believe it, it was shocking, really, it was shocking.
“You can understand if people don’t want you to act for them because you’re useless at your job or too expensive,” he said.
Mr Mika’s boss Mary Jane Thomas remembers the day the client rejected him.
“I just walked out and said that’s unfortunate and he can he go somewhere else really,” she said.
Racism in the industry is better than it was 30 years ago – but it was still a problem, Ms Thomas said.
More than half the lawyers who responded to the Law Society’s recent workplace environment survey said they had been bullied at some point in their working life.
Around a quarter of the Pacific lawyers and a third of the Asian lawyers who were bullied said it was motivated by race and culture.
Also more than a third of Pacific and Māori lawyers say been bullied in the last six months.
Law Society president Kathryn Beck said she was not aware of the extent of racial bullying.
“If you were to say to me that as a general workplace that this was likely to be an issue, yes I think that a lot of our minorities in our work places in New Zealand would say that they are often treated differently that if they are bullied there is often an ethnic motivation to that,” she said.
Since 2015, the Law Society has received only six complaints about racism in the law profession.
But Ms Mason said that was because lawyers did not complain.
“If you said to me ‘will you complain about it?’ I can tell you now that I won’t, because for me it’s a waste of time.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, you think ‘ah, where is it going to go, what’s it going to do? I just don’t have the time or energy to put into that, maybe someone else can’,” she said.
A task force, recently set up by the Law Society to focus on harassment and bullying – will look into the issue of racism, Ms Beck said.
Source: Radio NZ