The legal rebel with a cause

Renee Knake joins RMIT Law Seminar Series to shed light on gender disparity.

In partnership with The College of Law, RMIT were thrilled to host internationally recognised author and law professor Renee Knake as part of the RMIT Law Seminar Series - Shortlisted: Women, Diversity, the US Supreme Court & Beyond. Professor Knake currently holds the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at RMIT University and is also the Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the University of Houston.

Professor Knake’s research has focused on the media’s gendered depiction of Supreme Court nominees and how it has contributed to enduring inequality.

During the conversation, Professor Knake shared the fascinating, untold story of the history of the US Supreme Court Appointments. Based upon her forthcoming book, Shortlisted: Women, Diversity, the Supreme Court & Beyond (New York University Press), Professor Knake shared surprising revelations about women shortlisted for the US Supreme Court, to inspire individuals navigating the pipeline to power, and to aid organisations in bringing diversity to their leadership rank.

During her engaging and interactive presentation, Professor Knake stated that “leadership in the legal profession does not reflect the public it serves, even though women have entered law in numbers equal to men for decades.” Professor Knake went on to offer concrete strategies to remedy the situation by exposing the phenomenon of being shortlisted.

The term ‘shortlisting’ refers to being qualified for a position but ultimately not being selected. Shortlisting forms a list that creates the appearance of diversity, but in reality, preserves the status quo. This often occurs alongside professional advancement, “whether it be the judge in the courtroom, the CEO in the corner office, or the coach on the playing field,” explained Prof. Knake.

Women, and especially female minorities, regularly find themselves equally or more capable than the other candidates on the shortlist, but far less likely to be chosen.

Professor Knake acknowledges that we’ve come a long way, however government intervention aimed at addressing this imbalance has been largely ineffective and equal representation on boards is still woefully inadequate. Professor Knake suggests that organisations should track their hiring, including the shortlisted and the selected candidate. If the percentages of men and women on both lists are opposing, then both the recruiting process as well as the selection process should be evaluated.

“One way for organisations to improve would be to make sure that their selection bodies are more diverse. Organisations can also impact individuals through training programs to raise awareness about shortlisting and other types of bias and discrimination, and by offering support to women and minorities who step into leadership roles”, Professor Knake concludes.

Professor Knake’s illustrious career has seen her work tirelessly to bring equality, innovation and justice into the legal system, both in Australia and abroad. Having founded a first-of-its-kind law laboratory devoted to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship at Michigan State, Professor Knake has never shied away from challenging the status quo and breaking new ground. If there’s one take-away from Professor Knake’s incredible seminar, its her own words - “if you’re passionate about something, take a chance.”

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer