The program was moderated by Edona Vila of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and the speakers were:
Kerry O’Reilly Wilks, Head of Legal, North America & UK, Vale S.A.; Fernando Garcia, General Counsel, Government Affairs and Corporate Secretary, Nissan Canada Inc.; Arleen Huggins, Litigation Partner, Koskie Minksy LLP and head of the firm’s Employment Law Group (as well as the Women's Law Association of Ontario's President's Award winner for 2018); and Leola Pon, General Counsel for the Toronto District School Board.
Edona advised that there were two themes the program hoped to address: the first being the leadership journey and progress of women in law, and the second, how to seize opportunities for leadership.
Some takeaways from the evening:
- Arleen discussed the role that discrimination played in keeping women out of leadership positions in law, noting that unconscious bias is a big problem. She was her firm’s first racialized lawyer: “They were nice people, but they had a total ignorance of any of these issues, an unconscious ignorance, lack of education and awareness.” Arleen also observed that as she didn’t play golf and she didn’t have a cottage, etc. there was a lack of commonality, which can have a real impact on a career and the possibility of advancement. When a senior partner decides who will work with them on a file, a commonality, or lack of commonality, influences that decision.
- Leola agreed that unconscious bias was still a big problem and spoke of being mistaken for a flight attendant when she was in a group of political and business people flying to Ottawa.
- Kerry suggested that those seeking leadership roles should find someone who can be an active sponsor for them. She also challenged each of us to look at our own network and see how we can make a difference in someone’s life.
- Fernando spoke about the role of men in the advancement of women. He reflected on all the incredible events he has attended addressing the advancement of women, with very few men in attendance, observing that they are missing the opportunity to work as allies to women lawyers. Men need to be involved too.
- On the topic of becoming a leader, Arleen noted that she had to reach out and find someone to help her navigate through the firm. They did not have a formal mentorship program. She made sure she “weaseled” her way onto files. She recommended finding a champion, not just a mentor. Champions have power. Women need someone who will say “my success is tied to your success”.
- Leola noted that in in-house roles sometimes there are very few opportunities for promotion as often it is a flat organization. But there is nothing wrong with identifying what you want and going after it. Take the onus to branch out, as leaders should push for what they want.
- Fernando also recommended taking risks and not being afraid to share your successes. Don’t be too modest. You learn from every single struggle and how you overcame it.
- “Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns,” advised Kerry, to get the leadership position that you want. She spoke about fighting for her role on the Board of St. Mike’s Hospital. She recommended deciding what you want and to keep trying: “Trust yourself and you will know in your gut if you reached the end of the road.”
- “You may be called aggressive and pushy but take those words and put them on your head and wear that as your crown,” instructed Arleen.
Thanks TLA for another wonderful program!