This free public event was advertised as a “panel discussion featuring diverse women in a variety of legal careers, including private practice, government, in-house and the judiciary. The panel discussion will touch on issues of gender, race, diversity and inclusion and speak to the ideas of access and power in the legal profession”. How could you not want to go?
The event was well attended and had several impressive speakers:
- The Honourable Justice Sandra Bacchus of the Ontario Court of Justice;
- Christa Big Canoe, Legal Advocacy Director, Aboriginal Legal Services;
- May M. Cheng, Certified Specialist in IP, Partner at Osler;
- Marsha M. Lindsay, Vice-President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Purolator Inc.; and
- Isfahan Merali, Law Society Bencher and Tribunal Counsel, Consent and Capacity Board.
Just a few of the interesting insights provided by the panelists are summarized below:
- While Marsha was reluctant at first to take her current role and was (according to her) “pushed” into it by her boss, once she was in the new position she found it very “empowering” and “enlightening” to be “at the table” in her organization. Marsha felt that we really need to make a business case for inclusion. Clearly it is good for business; we just need to pitch it that way to the companies.
- According to May, having “grit” is very important, which has been defined as having stamina, passion and perseverance. May also recommended not letting people pigeon-hole you into positions based on your outward appearance. You need to assert yourself and tell people what you want to do.
- The speakers all agreed on the importance of networking but disagreed on what that meant. If “networking” just meant going to cocktail parties, some panelists disagreed about how beneficial this was to your career. However, Justice Bacchus felt that “networking” had a greater scope. It was about simply making “connections” with people. This means connecting with the support staff, colleagues, law school friends, etc. Don’t just show up at work, put your head down and ignore those around you. Isfahan noted that it was about “relationship” building, but you had to be true to yourself. Network the way that works for you.
- Christa felt that she has never really shied away from, or felt the need to hide, her culture or gender. She has a strong Indigenous identity. She noted however that while she normally wears her bead-work, earrings, and moccasins into court, she wore the usual courtroom garb at the Supreme Court of Canada. She had a special brooch that was really relevant to her and representative of her culture but felt she should wear it on the inside of her robes rather than on the outside, at the highest court.
- So what can we do to improve inclusivity and diversity in our profession? It is an individual and an organizational responsibility. May referred to the “30% Club” that recently entered Canada. This “Club” has an aspirational goal of having 30% women at board and senior management level, but they don’t believe in quotas. Christa asked why in 2016 we are celebrating 30% when women make up 52% of the population. This is not enough. Especially when it comes to racialized communities.
- Isfahan referred to the LSUC’s “Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group Final Report” which contains 13 recommendations, following a lengthy consultation process. Members of the legal profession and the public are welcome to provide comments on the recommendations prior to November 14, 2016. The fact that there is systemic racism in the legal profession is something that was very clear in the consultation. The report talks about how to develop a culture of change and making the profession more inclusive. All lawyers should review this report.
Overall it was an informative evening, followed by a great cocktail hour where you could “network” or “connect” with others. I found the panelists differing views on networking to be interesting. I do believe that “networking” or “connecting” with others is such an important concept for career advancement. As highlighted by the panel, networking is not just about getting new business in the door. It helps you find that new career position (like Marsha), it helps you get elected as Bencher with the LSUC (like Isfahan), it helps you get appointed to the bench (like Justice Bacchus), etc.
If you are interested in learning more about networking and connecting with others in our profession, and how woman may or may not do it differently, please note that the Women Lawyers Forum of the OBA will be hosting an event on December 1st on this very topic. Keep an eye out for an advertisement of the event and more details, which will be announced soon!