In a recent Q&A session, Lynne Vicars shared her thoughts on technology, gender equality and meaningful mentorship, offering a preview of her plans for her OBA presidency.
Q. What inspired you to join the legal profession?
I always had an intense curiosity about the law, and my contract law class in first year undergrad was by far my favorite, but, not knowing any lawyers personally, I had never imagined the possibility of becoming one. I found lawyers intimidating. I didn’t think I was a good enough student to be accepted to law school. A career counsellor at the University of Western Ontario was the first person to tell me that I should consider becoming a lawyer and that my grades were certainly high enough to be accepted to any Canadian law school or MBA program. Intrigued by the possibility and instilled with a new confidence, I wrote the GMAT and the LSAT and was accepted to both programs.
Q. What role has mentorship played in your life?
I have had the good fortune to have been mentored and sponsored by terrific leaders, a few men but mostly women. From my early days at the bank, where my direct supervisor and branch manager, both women, inspired me to me to enter the management training program; to my days as an articling student where my principal, also a woman, taught me not only how to be a great lawyer, but also the importance of building client relationships; to my current role, where senior women in the bank have provided me with challenging opportunities to stretch myself. In return, I have mentored other women, both formally through The Mentor Partnership, a program for new Canadians and the OBA’s Mentorloop, and informally as I meet young women just starting their legal education or careers. One of my most meaningful measures of my own success derives from the success of the others I have sought to assist. I take great pride in the accomplishments of all of my mentees and have learned so much from them.
Q. What challenges have you experienced or seen other women face in pursuit of career advancement?
Women’s voices, including my own, are often unheard in business conversations. I have many times witnessed a man repeating what a woman said earlier, as if the idea were his, and others in the room then nodding with approval. I don’t think this is intentional; I think it’s just something that as a society we have allowed to develop. I have seen men, and sometimes women, take credit for the work of others and be rewarded for it, whereas I tend to give credit to others on my team, even if a majority of the work was my own. I think sharing the good result and building up others is the right thing to do; however, it has given me pause to think whether it is a reason I and other women who act similarly, have not advanced in our careers as quickly as our more aggressive male peers.
Q. Are there ways in which your OBA involvement has been helpful to you specifically as a “woman in law”?
My involvement in the OBA has offered a “safe zone” to hone my leadership skills. There is no harm to my career or salary risk to making a mistake, and I’ve made many. It’s also allowed me to develop skills in governance and human resources, opportunities I would not have had otherwise. There have only been eight women presidents before me, including, in recent years, Pascale Daigneault and The Honourable Carole Brown. Their leadership was inspirational to me and, though other wonderful president mentors such as Ed Upenieks encouraged me, the women who trail-blazed before me gave me the courage, determination and confidence to actually run for election.
Q. How do you think the OBA is doing when it comes to promoting and fostering equality, diversity and inclusion in the profession?
The OBA has been a true leader on this issue as demonstrated by spearheading a collaborative Diversity Program; intervening in the Trinity Western case through the CBA; and playing a key role in educating the bar about the importance of the LSO’s Statement of Principles. However, the OBA’s most significant achievement comes from the terrific work accomplished by President Quinn Ross, Equality Committee Chair Sabrina Bandali and others in formulating a thoughtful plan for better supporting diversity in the profession in a practical, achievable and meaningful way. There is still much learning and work to do, particularly with respect to indigenous communities, and despite women having had the status of “persons” for nearly 90 years, true equality continues to elude us.
Q. What do you see as the OBA’s role in advancing gender equality?
Gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do from a business perspective. I don’t believe that firms are deliberately discriminating against women. The inequality comes from systemic practices and traditions designed by men of a different era that need to change, not only to make career advancement and engagement more attainable for women but for modern men as well. The OBA can lead the way in creating a road map for the future of legal practice that identifies emerging practice areas and applications of technology. The use of technology and reimagining “the way we work” offers a clear opportunity for achieving gender equality and more enjoyable careers for all lawyers.
Q. Beyond your gender equality mandate, what would you most like to see achieved during your presidency?
I live and breathe technology and innovation in both my professional and personal life. I’ve been a tech geek since I was a teenager, and given the fact I was a teenager in the 70s that’s a rather astonishing thing to say, particularly as a woman. I’d like us to be able to demonstrate to the profession how the use of technology will enhance their practices and enable them to cast off some of the administrative load and concentrate on providing the value-added brainpower they’ll be excited to deliver to appreciative clients. What better way to underscore the advantages of embracing constructive change and putting innovation into practice than with our newly launched Innovator in Residence program? I’m eager to see the cutting-edge tools, services and supports the program provides our members. As we roll out this groundbreaking initiative, technology and innovation will be a major focus for the coming year. Stay tuned!