Who were your female role models growing up?
I grew up in Canada in a very large extended family and I was fortunate to have plenty of female role models whose experience and insight I could draw upon. My grandmother was one of the first female graduates from a university in western Canada. She worked as a dietician before marrying and raising 9 children. My aunts also all worked outside of the home, and their career choices were varied, from teachers and lawyers to nurses and mathematicians. My mum is a pharmacist, and she was a tremendous influence on my desire to have a career. Early on, she instilled in me the importance of effort and hard work, commitment and responsibility. Like her, I am as driven and determined as they come. She also has a capacity for joy and faith in what life offers up which I find admirable.
I was also extremely fortunate to have mentors throughout my career. In my first job after graduating from university, my boss was a formidable woman who taught me a great deal about navigating the politics of the workplace. At the time, she was going through what I am now experiencing, balancing the demands of raising a young family while pursuing professional ambitions and all of the shifting identities that this entails. I hope I can do so with the same grace and fortitude that she showed. I continue to have mentors, both men and women, and it’s a role that I relish myself.
In terms of external role models, I wasn’t particularly influenced by pop culture growing up, although I did spend a lot of time listening to female Canadian musicians like Alannis Morissette and Sarah McLaughlin (I’m dating myself here…. Check them out – they’re great!) I continue to be inspired by the stories and voices of women as told by women in art, music and literature including Nina Simone, Imogen Cunningham, Frida Kahlo, Emily Carr, Barbara Hepworth, Jennifer Pettigrew, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, to name a few favourites.
Do you think it’s important to have strong female role models in the workplace?
It’s important to have strong role models in the workforce, period. I don’t think we should restrict this vital role to men or women, or for whom they can serve as role models either.
What is critical is variety, so that everyone can find someone they can relate to, or to help them formulate their individual aspirations, and also to teach, to guide and to encourage. One of the extraordinary things about working at Neyber is that we embody our external community not only in terms of gender, but also in our diversity of nationalities and generations. We are all exposed to rich and vibrant voices and perspectives every day and we are better off for it. I can’t imagine a more boring place to work than one where everyone looks and thinks like me, nor would I feel comfortable or happy in a place where no one does. Variety is key.
What made you choose a legal career?
I suppose some might say that it’s because I have an answer for everything! I didn’t aspire to be a lawyer, and even when I decided to study law, I didn’t intend to practice it. I was working in government relations and the public policy sector, and law was one avenue to bolster my skills and professional opportunities. Law can provide the tools to advance the policy process, identifying issues, designing solutions, and implementing change.
I am fascinated with what I’ll call “everyday” rights – from basic consumer issues, to how we organise ourselves at home, at work and in our communities, to larger social and human values –- and in particular how access to information and education influences all of these. A legal career allowed me the opportunity to think about and get involved in these issues on a daily basis. This is certainly true of my role at Neyber.
Lastly, I love the world of words. My daughter is just beginning to learn how to read and write, and when I explain to her what a lawyer does, I tell her that I get to play with words all day. Language is the most powerful tool we have to argue our position, to negotiate and to convince, to advocate on behalf of others, to be heard and to be recognised. As a lawyer and as I woman I have a voice; I have a responsibility to use it with integrity.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges women face when getting into the legal profession?
Women now outnumber men in law schools but the same is not the case when it comes to entry into traditional roles in the legal profession, principally in private practice. This is even more so in senior roles. There has been a great deal of talk about how to encourage women to enter and remain in law, but very little meaningful action.
In my view the traditional structures of the profession don’t serve the interests of women, but they no longer suit those of men either. Not only are creative solutions required to address the barriers women encounter in seeking to enter and advance in the legal profession, but so too is a wholescale cultural shift in how the profession is organised and how it values the service it provides. May I suggest that women are just the ones for the job?
Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
It is important that we celebrate International Women’s Day to mark the accomplishments and progress that men and women together have made in advancing the position of women in our society. This may seem simplistic, particularly in western society where women enjoy freedom of movement, the right to be educated and to work outside of the home and to be paid for that work, to dress as we wish, to love and chose the partners and types of families we desire. We seemingly have fewer restrictions and enhanced freedoms that many other women around the world do not share.
However, what we tend to call women’s issues are better characterised as societal challenges that affect all men and women. Celebrating International Women’s Day allows us to pause and reflect on what more needs to be done, and what we individually and collectively can do to tackle critical policy issues around personal safety and security, access to healthcare and education, equal pay for equal work, and care and support for children and aging or ill family members, to name but a few.