I have long been an advocate for greater diversity in law, in all of its forms. One of the main barriers we faced in the legal industry in the 20th century was gender diversity, and it’s a barrier that is still with us today.
Yesterday we celebrated International Women’s Day. Two recent studies out of Ryerson University help illustrate contemporary obstacles.
The first looks at leadership roles in the business sector by examining female representation in senior positions at major corporations in Toronto. Although there has been some growth between 2009-2014, women still remain underrepresented. Gender disparities have even led to the Ontario Securities Commission to consider requiring companies on the TSX being required to list the number of women in directors and executive officer positions.
Before women can advance into leadership roles though, they need to have positions that allow them to develop the experience to become leaders.
The second study looks at problem solving for scientific output, and demonstrated that gender heterogeneous teams perform much better. This might sound intuitive to those familiar with the business case for diversity, but the authors claim that this is the first empirical study to show this definitively.
Extrapolating this to the legal industry, we need to have more women in partner positions, as benchers, and leading our legal organizations. In order to do so, we need to better value the contributions that women make to the legal profession. The 2011 Maytree report into diversity of the legal profession suggests we are still far from that goal. Retention of women, we repeatedly hear, is the major problem that law firms face, though firms are reluctant to share numbers.
As a man who frequents events hosted by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO) and others, I am often asked by women how we can get more men involved in gender issues. The answer to that question for me is simple, because it stems from issues of equity and fairness that we should all have an interest in.
There are also selfish motivators available for those who need it, namely that pushing issues that are normally gender stratified such as family responsibilities has the potential to transform work-life balance for men as well. The quality of living of all lawyers, women and men, are improved by recognizing the need for a holistic approach to career satisfaction, which necessitates outside interests.
International Women’s Day is about women. But it’s also about everyone else, and how we can take this profession to the next level and outperform the previous generation of lawyers.