Betrayer of the sisterhood. Anti-feminist. Disloyal to women. These are all terms that were used to describe Marie Henein throughout the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Most concerning of all, however, was not the plethora of similar choice words attributed to Ms. Henein across social media platforms during the trial (and after the verdict) but rather one basic fact: Most of these comments were made by other women. If the roles were reversed, and Ms. Henein was a man, would the same have been said?
It should come as no surprise to anyone that women in law continue to face adversity. We have not yet completely shattered the glass ceiling and subtle hints of patriarchy still have women pushing hard to prove themselves in the industry. However, times are changing and for the better. In recent years, many Canadian law schools have been accepting more women than men. In both private practice and the in-house world, women are being applauded and promoted more and more often as partners and senior leaders. In fact, both Monique Mercier and Andrea Wood of Telus, chief legal officer and senior vice president of legal services, respectively, are prime examples of women who have flourished in their careers and serve as strong role models for young female lawyers like myself. In addition, the board of directors at Telus adopted a comprehensive diversity policy in 2013 to strengthen the representation of diverse members, with a commitment to have a minimum representation of 25 per cent women by May 2017.
Similarly, in the past decade, countless organizations have encouraged men to consider the gender wage gap, to treat their female counterparts with equal respect and, as coined by Sheryl Sandberg in her 2013 best-selling novel, to “Lean In” in all aspects of life, from taking on a more equal share of parenting responsibilities to helping encourage their daughters to lead. So why is it that we still hear comments like those made about Ms. Henein? Why is the gender wage gap still an issue today? Why do women still struggle to be understood, valued, and treated equally to men? Perhaps it is because, in our fight against sexism and in our pursuit to prove to our male counterparts that we can perform just as well (if not better), we have forgotten one simple thing: to help each other.
Women helping women does not have to be a difficult concept to put into practice. It can begin with small acts of kindness and paying it forward. It can come in the form of praising a friend for her decision to ask for that raise she so evidently deserves or to pursue that professional designation she has always dreamed of. For lawyers, it can be as easy as setting aside half an hour a week to mentor a young associate, taking the time to check in and providing career advice. Nothing has been more valuable to me in my short career than hearing of other lawyers’ career trajectories and what they would tell their younger selves to do if they could go back in time.
Another way to help fellow female lawyers is to join a women’s network or association. Young lawyers recognize how busy our professional lives are and may not feel as comfortable reaching out to a female partner or leader at work. Events organized by women’s associations help close the power distance felt in the office and allow women to connect in an amicable and relatively informal setting. Ultimately, when women feel one another’s support, they become more empowered to seek greater success in their careers. This success leads to having more women in positions of leadership where they can properly advocate for issues that affect their gender, such as the wage gap.
So next time a young female lawyer reaches out to you to connect via LinkedIn, take a moment and think back to when you were in her shoes, trying to figure out your own career path. Recall how much a few kind words of support and advice made you feel like nothing could stop you from achieving your goals. And then go ahead and pick up the phone.
Neda Canario is legal counsel at Telus in Toronto.