A bite of the cake

Written by Ash Ratnam

When someone asks about diversity in the makeup of mediators what do people think of? Gender, culture, educational background? Rightfully so, but how many people think about diversity from a generational standpoint?

In 2014/2015 Victoria University conducted research on Commercial Mediation in New Zealand. In their research they found that, “Most commercial mediators in New Zealand are aged between 50-70 years old (79%), with only 6% of respondents aged below 50 years old.” It was also found that within that 6% there were no mediators whose age ranged between 20-30 years old.

As a Dispute Resolution Professional under the age of 30, I have struggled to gain the opportunity to prove myself within a field of seasoned practitioners. In part, this is due to the well-known Imposter Syndrome creeping in, but you could also ask, is there sufficient support, guidance and a pathway to grow which empowers young people to be the best they can be?

Developing young practitioners in the mediation space is an investment, one that is often overlooked. We understand that in order to stay on the progression ladder we must continue to develop and do better to step onto the next rung. We are eager to learn, to be taught and our minds are malleable, willing to take any wisdom and knowledge from the more experienced mediators we are fortunate to work alongside.

Young practitioners know how competitive and demanding the workforce can be and as a result are constantly trying to upskill ourselves to be a better version than what we were yesterday, all for someone to give us an opportunity no matter how small it may be (like writing a website article!). Young practitioners have a lot to offer our more experienced colleagues as well. We are creative and think outside the box in a different way to other generations, providing mutual opportunities to learn if given the chance.

As a duty mediator in the Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) team, I see more and more cases coming through with younger parents, some as young as 16 years old. I believe that along with being independent and neutral, FDR mediators need to be able to connect with the family they are mediating for. When there is little that a party can relate to with their mediator there is a risk of losing that connection. By providing young practitioners experience and an opportunity to co-mediate as well as observe, the more experienced practitioners receive not only practical assistance but the potential for new insight to their clients as well. 

On the other side of the coin, it is important for my generation to not expect opportunities to be handed to them simply because they have a degree or are accredited by a professional body. A university lecturer of mine once said, ‘All of you will have law degrees but not all of you will receive a job as a lawyer. So, ask yourself, what makes you better than the person sitting next to you? What is your point of difference?’

Recently, I was invited to sit on a panel for the British Columbia Continuing Legal Education Conflict Resolution Conference to share my experience and journey as a young mediator. I was joined by young practitioners in the UK and Canada who have similar experiences and perspectives in the dispute resolution sector. We highlighted the benefits of having young professionals in the mediation profession but also acknowledged what young people can do to increase their chance of gaining experiences and opportunities.

A point we all had in common was for young practitioners to be proactive in their own progression. Whether this is volunteering in the community, creating a practitioner study-group, finding a mentor who is in a more senior position or even networking on social media. Just make sure to get out there and build your own pathway and develop your own brand, no one can do this for you.

So, to those currently on this pathway, I advise you to take initiative and don’t be disheartened by the barriers you might face. There might not be an opening for the role you desire, or you may feel that you don’t yet have the skills that an ‘entry level’ position requires, that does not mean it stops there. Look for any opportunity that will provide you with the skills and experience needed to get where you want to go.

The world is constantly evolving around us and the need to move to a more flexible, remote style of working in 2020 showed us that we need to adapt to change more proactively as a profession. There needs to be a break in the stigma attached to young people being entitled, avocado on toast eating, turmeric latte drinking dreamers (although, can I just say, yum) but as colleagues who hold different skills and unique life experiences that can benefit the profession and the individual practice of experienced practitioners as well.

My hope is that as a profession, we can embrace and guide the next generation of practitioners.  Help us to help you and importantly the families we work with. We don’t want the whole cake, just a bite.

About the author

Ash Ratnam is an accredited mediator, working in Fair Way’s family services.

Ash holds a conjoint Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Arts degree and is an enrolled barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. She is an Associate member of the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand (AMINZ) and is an accredited Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) provider.

If you would like to get in touch with Ash, please contact her by email at fairwayinfo@fairwayresolution.com