Activating Female Leadership: The 2nd Annual Women in Business & Law Panel, hosted by Torys LLP
JD/MBA’2021, Co-VP Alumni of the JD/MBA Students’ Association and Hennick Fellow, Programs & Special Projects
In light of International Women’s Day, the JD/MBA Students’ Association (“JMSA”) held its 2nd annual Women in Business & Law Panel, hosted by Torys LLP, on March 14th, 2019. While significant progress has been made to close the gender gap in leadership positions, many women still face obstacles in attaining these positions and are still underrepresented in comparison to their male counterparts. This special event gave JD/MBA students the opportunity to listen to several successful women in the law and business industries discuss the unique challenges they face as females in leadership roles within their organizations and how they overcome these difficulties. The panel, moderated by Alexandra Misurka, VP Alumni of the JD/MBA Students’ Association, included the following panelists:
- Georgia Brown: Head of Legal Recruitment & Diversity, Torys LLP
- Hilary Hennick: Director, Legal Counsel at Cineplex
- Justine Johnson: Associate, Goodmans LLP
- Alysha Manji-Knight: Associate, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP
- Laura McGee: CEO of Diversio; formerly at McKinsey Consulting
- Lisa Parliament: Partner, McMillan LLP
Following dinner and refreshments, the panel began with discussion of specific challenges women face, one of which is the opportunity to acquire valuable experience early in their careers. The panelists explained that the difficulty arises from a number of these opportunities following traditional networking activities, such as golf or hockey, which many women do not share as an interest with their male counterparts. As a result, women may unintentionally be excluded from the opportunity to share their interest in a new project and engage with senior executives. However, the panelists stated that women can overcome this barrier by developing sponsors early in their careers to help them advance in the workplace. While a mentor acts more as a “friend” to provide guidance, a sponsor is an advocate who can attest to their co-worker’s abilities.
A follow up conversation quickly developed on how to find such a sponsor. It was mentioned that these relationships develop from continuous interactions with co-workers, even as simple as having a conversation in the lunch room. Eventually, these interactions can lead to a chance to work on an important project you expressed interest in and advocacy for your abilities when new opportunities arise. The panelists emphasized the importance of making an effort to get to know other people in your firm or company and start conversations about interesting topics, indicating that sponsors can come from within or outside your organization and engaging with people at events outside of work is also a recommended place to begin developing critical relationships.
Other topics throughout the evening included differing negotiation tactics between men and women. The panelists discussed how women are less likely to ask for opportunities, whether that opportunity is to work on a big important file, a salary raise, or a promotion, in comparison to men. This habit is also a hindrance for moving into more senior roles. The panelists explained that aside from learning to work hard, it is also an important lesson to take credit for quality work and make your accomplishments known. All the women shared their own personal anecdotes of a time when they asked for an opportunity and the significant positive impact this had on their careers moving forward, while encouraging the students to take chances and to not be afraid of rejection when reaching out to a colleague to ask for an opportunity.
The evening ended with a Q&A session that focused on what actions should be taken to further future changes. Encouraging men to join the conversation was mentioned, while acknowledging that many are already making efforts to make a difference.
On behalf of the JMSA, we thank Torys LLP for hosting the Women in Business & Law Panel and for all their assistance in making this event possible. We are grateful for their support in encouraging conversations on enhancing female leadership.