Prominent lawyers part of Canada’s 100 most powerful women

At least 10 lawyers have been named in a list of Canada’s 100 most powerful women.

The Women’s Executive Network produces the list each year to highlight the professional achievements of women across the country.

A leadership summit and gala is being held today in Toronto to celebrate the 2013 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards.

The names on the top 100 list include:

  • Janice Odegaard, senior vice president and general counsel, Suncor Energy Inc.
  • Kathleen Ryan, partner, Davis LLP
  • Leslie O’Donoghue, executive vice president, corporate development & strategy and chief risk officer, Agrium
  • Lisa Borsook, executive partner, WeirFoulds LLP
  • Lisa Vogt, partner and chief diversity and engagement officer, McCarthy Tétrault LLP
  • Lori Wanamaker, deputy minister, Ministry of Justice, and deputy solicitor general, Province of British Columbia
  • Lynn McGrade, partner and Toronto regional investment management group leader, business development committee, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
  • Monique Mercier, senior vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary, Telus Corp.
  • Nancy Hopkins, partner, McDougall Gauley LLP and director, The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board
  • Shannon Rogers, president and general counsel, Global Relay

The names were chosen by panels of judges, from nominations mainly submitted by the women’s colleagues.

More than 200 nominations were received, of which around 15 were from law firms.

Vogt says female lawyers have made great strides in the 30 years she has been practising but there are still many barriers the profession must tackle.

“50 per cent of people graduating from law school are women but we’re still not seeing that [reflected] in 50 per cent of equity partners,” she says.

Firms generally recognize the business argument for retaining and advancing women, but have struggled with an “unintentional bias” that can lead to senior lawyers favouring people who are similar to them, she argues.

Firms must also support women to take on client-facing work “so they have the same opportunities to raise their profiles,” she adds.

However, senior women lawyers should also be prepared to mentor and support younger colleagues trying to break through, she believes.

McGrade agrees. “It’s very important for women who are leading their profession to help women overcome some of the challenges,” she says.

McGrade, who has four children, says law can be a “wonderfully rewarding” career despite the long working hours. “You have to stick with it when the hard times come, and find a mentor,” she recommends.

Working with clients in very male-dominated industries such as private equity and mining can be daunting, she admits, but women need to remember, “their credentials and what they have to offer.”

Borsook was a member of the steering committee for the Law Society's Retention of Women in Private Practice Working Group, in connection with the Justicia Project.

She says the work had a “terrific, positive effect” but there is still much to do.

“The biggest challenge is to get women into the upper ranks of the profession, not just partnership, but positions of responsibility in law firms so they’re capable of effecting change,” she says.

Asked whether the cause would be helped by greater transparency from firms on how progress is being tracked and measured, she argues the statistics are less important than taking “meaningful action,”

She also suggests younger female lawyers are realistic about the impact of long career breaks. For example, they may wish to take lengthy periods of time to raise children, or to cope with life challenges such as ill parents or spousal difficulties.

“This assumption that you can step away from your job and career and expect it to be there for you five to six years later is a little short-sighted,” she warns.

“Gainful employment is fundamental, to take the challenges that life throws at us and stand on our own two feet,” she states.

Vogt agrees that law can be a demanding career but is worth the hard work. “You have to stay the course,” she says.

The mother-of-five, who has two daughters at law school, advises female lawyers who wish to have children to “choose a spouse who is prepared to do 50 per cent of the parenting” — and to consider hiring a nanny.

Award winners are invited to take part in a mentoring program run by the Women’s Executive Network.

The program aims to build women’s leadership skills; the $1,895 cost is normally picked up by participants’ firms.

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