Dr Jocelynne Scutt

on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Interviews about the Glass Ceiling

Dr Jocelynne Scutt

Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is Anti-Discrimination Commissioner for Tasmania, operating under and administering the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tasmania). Prior to becoming Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in October 1999, Dr Scutt was in private practice at the Melbourne Bar, where she specialised in administrative law, anti-discrimination and equal opportunity, tax, corporate law and banking, criminal law, immigration, property and equity, human rights and the rights of Indigenous people. She is founding director of Artemis Publishing and of the consultancy Light & Power, and co-founder of Steadfast Communications. She has been a director of the Victorian Women’s Trust, a member of various boards including the Victoria Law Foundation, Social Biology Resources Centre, New South Wales Women’s Advisory Council, the Australian Institute of Political Science, and of the Copyright Tribunal.

After graduating in law from the University of Western Australia in 1969 (LlB), Jocelynne Scutt attended the University of Sydney where she gained a Master of Laws (LlM) degree and Diploma of Jurisprudence (Dip. Juris) before studying overseas at Southern Methodist University and the University of Michigan in the USA, the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and the Max-Planck-Institut in Germany. She gained another Master of Laws (LlM) and her Doctor of the Science of Jurisprudence (SJD) in Michigan in 1974 and 1979, and Diploma of Legal Studies (Dip Legal Studies) from Cambridge in 1976. Subsequently she gained a Master of Arts (MA) from the University of New South Wales (1984) and in 1994 was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws (LlD) (Honoris Causa) by Macquarie University. She is suspended, midstream, in studying film and television at the University of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), and is currently writing on ‘Golden Girls, Wise or Wanton Women? Diana, Marilyn and Grace’, an ethical insight into the cult of celebrity and attempted denial of women’s agency. 

Jocelynne Scutt has worked with the Australian Law Reform Commission, the Australian Institute of Criminology, the Victorian  Parliamentary Legal and Constitutional Committee, and was Deputy Chairperson of the Law Reform Commission, Victoria, before going into private practice at the Bar. She practiced primarily in Victoria, as well as in Tasmania and the Northern Territory, and practiced also in New South Wales, South Australian and Western Australia, as well as doing opinion work in the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland. 

Some of her books are Even in the Best of Homes - Violence in the Family, The Baby Machine - Commercialisation of Motherhood, The Sexual Gerrymander - Women and the Economics of Power, Women and the Law, Breaking Through - Women, Work and Careers, Taking a Stand - Women in Politics and Society, Living Generously - Women Mentoring Women. She is editor of the Artemis ‘Women’s  Voices, Women’s Lives’ series (ten books published and five at various stages of production), has a number of books in the planning - including Reputation - Image, Ethics and Respectability, and has recently completed a book on equal pay, for the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women, National Council of Women and New South Wales Trades and Labour Council, Wage Rage - Women’s Struggle for Equal Pay.

Under the nom de plume Melissa Chan she has published crime novels and short stories and co-edited anthologies (with J. Terry). She has read her work at various venues/writers’ festivals - including Adelaide Writers Festival 1994. 

To view the speech by Speech by Dr Jocelynne A Scutt, Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Tasmania click on title below:


Interview with Dr Jocelynne Scutt

Do you think that there is an invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the highest level in your profession regardless of their accomplishments and merits?

The barrier is not invisible. It is peopled by persons of the male sex/gender who in past lives made rulings that (a) women should not be allowed to go to university; (b) once there, should not be allowed to enter articles to become practising lawyers; (c) once 'in' articles, should not be allowed to be admitted to practice. These people were called 'judges' and made these 'rulings' by recourse to what they called 'the law'. (One could hardly call it 'judicial' or 'just' - in any reasonable or reasoned sense of these words.) Once women went into practice, then the issue was 'getting work'. In the 1970s Louise (family name escapes me - will come) did a survey of why women lawyers were crowded into narrow areas of the law (conveyancing, family law, criminal law). She found this was because criminal law was mostly legal aid - hence, poorly paid; family law was 'what women did' (really - 'ought' to do); conveyancing was 'women's work' - that is, they were 'up to' it. She found that one of the biggest obstacles was male solicitors who wouldn't brief women barristers - they used excuses such as that their clients 'wouldn't like it'. they hadn't asked their clients - it was an assumption they made. In the 1960s a woman in Sydney 'made it' to a partnership in her firm. She was written up in all the newspapers - this was the 'evidence' of the 'new wave' of women into the 'upper echelons' of the profession. As she said to me, no one followed her for decades - at least, there was no huge surge forward. rather - it was the usual. The notion that when one or two women go into a male dominated area, they are 'taking over' or are 'the new wave of the new century' (last century) etc etc. mmm. Today, women may become partners in large law firms. However, one has to ask on what terms these partnerships are 'granted'. Mostly one would find they are salaried partners, not equity partners. One then must ask what level are their salaries, and compare/contrast them with fellows salaries. Then, if they are equity partners (rare) they are unlikely to be on the same equity as their male 'mates'. again mmmm. Some women who have 'made it' (think they have made it) in the law, will say there are no barriers - they have 'never been discriminated against'; therefore, there aren't. Just putting to one side the lack of perception (mild criticism this) in this notion, what about the selfishness in it? Don't they even pay any attention to anyone else? What about the women who 'haven't' 'made it'? Does this mean that they (of course) are dumb, stupid, etc etc, whilst the women 'up there' are oh-just-so-bright, etc etc. no. It doesn't. It means - yes, you guessed it - there are barriers and unfortunately these 'there's no discrimination' women, are part of the problem - a big part. (Although one should never lose sight of what the major problem is - not lacking-in-insight selfish women, but ever-so-perceptive and selfish men! These latter are the ones, of course, that let the women do their work for them. again mmmmm)

However, all that having been said, I wonder why there is all this concentration on the glass ceiling? What about the concrete canopy that shuts out the day light from the women working in factories and sweatshops, for little or nothing? What about some concern about the vast, vast bulk of women in Australia and in the world, who don't have the luxury of looking up through glass at men's bottoms, but can't even see the tops of their sisters' heads - because it's so dark down there.

 If yes, why do you think this exists in your profession? 

Blokes and 'sucked in' women.

Is this barrier in your profession penetrable? How can the barrier be dismantled in your profession? 

It depends who's doing the 'penetrating'. If you go along to get along you might get along, and somehow 'make it'. But a warning - what does 'making it' mean, anyway? Women are not accepted on the same terms as men (I mean vis-a-vis respect, acknowledgement of brains, etc etc). Ask the sole woman judge on the high court. She's said a word or two on all this - and as the 'top' woman in a male dominated profession, she is the one worth listening to - not one going along to get along. Just ask a few judges what 'merit' means. I doubt you'll find any/many who actually understand the subjective nature of 'merit'. Contributions to the 'debate' last century (in the 1980s - late) on judicial appointments indicated this so well. 'We can't make the judiciary "representative" if this means promoting women and minority groups. After all - how could they possibly be "impartial" if they're promoted?' Clearly, according to this 'intelligence', only white middle/upper middle-class males can be 'impartial' or 'meritorious'. This is, of course (mmmmm) because they 'carry no baggage' - not like women and minority groups, who are not able to 'rise above' their womanness and 'minority-ness' ....

Do you consider yourself to have broken through the Glass ceiling in your profession? If yes, how have you done this? 

I think the glass ceiling debate is a furphey. I think we need to spend time on worrying about the women at the bottom who are struggling to survive, not about the women in their black BMW-s who think they've made it, or almost made it, and want us all to concentrate on doing something about the glass ceiling so that they can sit on it comfortably ignoring the bodies below.

 In general, what do you see as the underlying cause that must be addressed to shatter the glass ceiling in corporate and public Australia?

Putting a bomb under the concrete canopy so that the strong, struggling, powerful women under it can get out. Let us all look at the sky together. The brains of the women under the concrete canopy - in the factories, etc, their persistence and abilities are what we need. We need to join them in a joint struggle, not one that is only 'about us' and 'for us'. I'd rather be alongside the women workers getting their strength and learning from their strategising, than nosing about amongst the blokes ankles any day. after all, that's where the women who 'break' the glass ceiling generally are - a toehold on the toes of the blokes who stuck the glass ceiling there in the first place.