Michelle Payne, the Jockey (as distinct to all the other Michelle Payne’s in the world :-) ) was relatively unknown prior to this years Melbourne Cup! I probably don’t need to restate, with all of the media attention she has received since the event. However, for anyone who may have missed it (i.e. out of the country, working 24/7, not interested or living as a recluse)….she was the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Only 3 other horses with odds at 100/1 have won the Melbourne Cup in 155 years and women have only been able to have professional licenses since 1979. A very significant event in racing! What, if anything, can we learn from Michelle Payne’s success?
5 minute read.
Were you one of the few who backed her and her horse at 100/1? Why did you back her and her horse with such long odds? If you didn’t back her, why? Was her success a matter of good luck on the day?
Can any lessons be learned by both female and male lawyers about Michelle Payne’s story? Or could it be argued, this is just a simple story about a “horse race and its rider – being female – coming good” …..it has no connection to law?
Firstly let me state, this is not a feminist piece, rather a view about known and documented challenges particularly in relation to law. Unless there is some discussion about any “elephant in the room” change can never have an opportunity to occur. So let me ask: Is there any cross over, between the issues raised by Michelle in racing and law? If so, we are in a good position to learn something from Michelle Payne.
Racing: Michelle said she suffered discrimination due to her gender and said “It is such a chauvinistic sport” and added “female jockeys seemingly have to work twice as hard to earn respect“. In 2009, she won her first Group 1 race which flagged she had reached ‘the top’. However, convincing the male dominated sport of racing that she had what it takes was a tough struggle and not easy to do, even right up to the Melbourne Cup ride.
She said that many owners believed that male jockeys are stronger and she added “But you know what? It’s not all about strength. It’s about getting a horse into a rhythm for you. It’s being patient” which is an attribute of successful riders. She had the advantage of having soft hands (apparently referring to not pulling on the reins too much) and being calm another valuable asset in the best jockeys.
After her win, Michelle said “some of the owners wanted to kick me off the horse (Prince of Penzance), but I thought he had what it takes to run a race in the Melbourne Cup.” She then reserved an insult for those who thought she might have performed her job more effectively if she had a deep voice and a bulge in her pants. “Get stuffed”.
What about Law?
Law: Let me be brave and say law has a male dominated culture. The Law Council’s authoritative NARS research report represents the first ever national investigation into female attrition and the barriers for females in law.
The report found: The relative lack of women in senior leadership positions is seen to contribute to a male-dominated culture in which it is difficult for women to progress. Women experience career development and career progression opportunities differently from their male counterparts. There is a perception of conscious or unconscious bias against women who adopt flexible working arrangements to balance family responsibilities. Half of all women report experiencing discrimination due to their gender, whilst one in four has experienced sexual harassment in their workplace
The following examples of overt gender discrimination were reported:
- allocation of different types of work;
- being denied access to opportunities; and
- being rejected or judged as less competent by clients and colleagues.
The culture in law and racing appear to have many similarities. However, despite all of the setbacks, tragedies, discrimination, Michelle succeeded. How?
Key To Success
- She didn’t allow her humble background to define her or limit her dreams for success
- Her setbacks (skull fracture, bruising to the brain, discrimination, background) didn’t mean failure, just a hump in the road to her ultimate goal and success
- Step by step she edged closer to success, she didn’t allow failures, discrimination or tragedy to stop her
- She didn’t care that in the past 155 years only 3 horses with odds at 100/1 actually won the Melbourne Cup
- She had a strong work ethic which supported her dream to win
- Michelle didn’t allow the negative beliefs of others dampen or define her goals, with common views – male jockeys are stronger and better suited to winning races as a successful jockey. She recognised success is based upon more than what a particular gender can bring i.e. strength, aggression etc.
- She wasn’t anxious that a world famous jockey (Frankie Dettori) who once rode the winner of every race at Royal Ascot at one raceday was beside her. She rode her own race under the direction and instructions of Darren Weir (horse trainer), and backed herself and her abilities.
It can’t be underestimated the large role Darren Weir played in Michelle and her brother Stevie (strapper) success. He was a man with vision, he saw potential in a 100/1 horse (brought for $50K in an otherwise multimillion dollar field) and made an unpopular choice of providing an opportunity. How? He allowed a female jockey to ride this horse on the “world stage” as well as allow a downs syndrome young man by the name of Stevie (Michelles brother) to work as a strapper at the same event. He gave them both a huge opportunity, he believed in their skills, potential and supported their possible success. I find it interesting that even for a horse with odds at 100/1, most of the owners still didn’t want to use a female rider.
I can say from experience, I have heard it said “ my clients, have asked for male Barristers“. Im perturbed that in 2015, Barrister competency is with reference to gender. Surely, like in racing, much more is involved!
Its time to pose a rhetorical question to you: Would you be the “Darren Weir” – supporting female lawyers in your firm? Maybe some of your female lawyers are considered at 100/1 odds of success, possibly due to their humble background, or they may be mothers and trying to juggle motherhood with a progressive career or any other apparent challenge, such as inexperience, too soft, too shy, or they aren’t “male enough“? Do you give your female lawyers the same opportunities as you do your male lawyers, so that they too can succeed with hard work and a vision? This may be an unpopular choice, like in racing, however it offers a fair playing field for all.
We must remember peoples talents are often hidden until opportunities are provided, like in Michelle’s case!
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