As a woman in leadership, AJ Park Managing Director Dr Andrea Dickens is all too familiar with the biases faced by women both in the workplace and broader society. Having held several management positions at AJ Park over the past two decades, Andrea draws on her experience in the legal industry to drive meaningful change for the firm’s people and clients. As a leader with employee engagement close to her heart, the management style within the firm has morphed into what it is today - transparent, open and authentic - with her at the helm.
To put the spotlight on International Women's Day (IWD), we sat down with Andrea to discuss why IWD is important, the transition she’s seen over the years in this space and the steps AJ Park is taking to drive equality in the workplace.
Why do you think it's important to observe IWD?
Despite improvement in career opportunities for women, women still face deep-seated biases that play out in micro-aggressions in the workplace. To level the playing field, we need to call out that gender discrimination still exists and take proactive steps to improve women’s experiences and representation in the workplace.
For International Women’s Day 2022, the theme is breaking the bias. This theme aims to raise awareness and encourage people to bring the very issues that stunt our ability to live in a gender equal world to the forefront. And further, do what is needed to be done to break these biases.
IWD promotes and recognises gender equality, what are some of the steps AJ Park has taken to create a fair and equal environment for its people?
We are committed to promoting and role modelling gender equality. For instance, our Executive Leadership Team comprises 50% women, our principal cohort is comprised of 28% women and 49% of our fee-earners are women. When reviewing policies and HR practices, we actively apply a gender lens, and we conduct a gender pay equity analysis during our performance and remuneration review round.
Our Executive Leadership Team comprises 50% women, our principal cohort is comprised of 28% women and 49% of our fee-earners are women.
You joined AJ Park as the first marketing manager in 1999. What are some of the key changes you’ve noticed in the legal industry over that time?
So many things! The partnership demographic was the opposite of diverse, being almost all middle-aged pakeha men. The culture was very blokey, so particularly as a young woman, I felt uncomfortable and excluded in group settings. Further, socialising involved frequent heavy drinking, and you were only part of the in-crowd if you went to the pub every Friday night.
I love that we have now moved to a modern progressive culture where people are respected for who they are and the lifestyles they choose, and a love of rugby and beer is no longer the glue that binds us. I’m also delighted flexible work practices have become the norm, which rightfully demonstrates trust and respect to employees and supports richer and more balanced lives than the traditional 9-5 in-office working practices that existed for so long.
Having held leadership positions at AJ Park for over two decades, what do you feel makes a great leader?
In my view, a great leader wants to drive the business forward while delivering benefits to all stakeholder groups – shareholders, employees and clients. It is critical that we lead our people with transparency, open communication and authenticity, while setting an ambitious agenda that keeps us at the top of our market.
Over the years, I have seen a modernisation in the firm’s leadership style, and it’s wonderful to see the positive influence this has to the firm culture, performance and people.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by a group of AJ Park leaders (Executive Leadership Team, Practice Group Leaders and Principals) who all hold these values at the fore, while bringing the own flavour and individuality. Over the years, I have seen a modernisation in the firm’s leadership style, and it’s wonderful to see the positive influence this has to the firm culture, performance and people.
As the managing director of NZ’s largest IP law firm, what are some of the key indicators that highlight success for the firm?
I work to many KPIs, but employee engagement is the one closest to my heart. If our people are engaged, they’ll bring their A-game to their external or internal client work, they’ll share our ambition for the firm and naturally we’ll achieve the financial, and market share growth that we strive for.
What are you most looking forward to this year (work & personal)?
I am looking forward to having our people back in the office. I miss people! We are building new offices in Auckland that will be ready in June which (fingers crossed) should be post-Omicron, and I want to see our people enjoying that new space, working in new hybrid routines and feeling connected to their colleagues. I’m also delighted that New Zealand’s border restrictions have eased significantly so our people can start reconnecting with our clients and markets overseas.
On a personal note, I’m looking forward to a Far North Queensland beach holiday, which is the ultimate in relaxation for me.