During the first quarter of my presidency, I’ve been fortunate to represent the Association at many fascinating events and interact with some of the most involved members of our community across the province and beyond. Throughout these engagements, I’ve been encouraged by the interest in, and support for, my presidential mandate to advance gender equality in the profession.
Lawyers recognize the need to re-examine and re-build systems, attitudes and behaviours that prevent all genders from fully engaging and succeeding within the current framework. This galvanized will is fundamental to progress in this area; it means that, collectively, we are ready to explore obstacles from new angles and devise innovative, effective solutions.
The OBA is introducing a series of Solution Circles this year – a collaborative exercise in brainstorming, designed to leverage the power of an entire community to overcome a seemingly intractable problem. We want to bring lawyers of all genders and diverse perspectives to the table to share experiences of marginalization and exclusion; to unearth and expose the forces at play; and to explore avenues to address these root causes and create a more inclusive, rewarding, progressive profession.
These Solution Circles will offer a safe space for members to be candid, vulnerable and heard. I’m committed to making them as welcoming, fruitful and productive as possible in drawing out a variety of stories, outlooks and solutions. For that reason, I’m seeking your input on how to accomplish this. What has held you back from participating in a group discussion or idea-exchange in the past?
Sometimes, the very way in which we solicit feedback undermines the intent. A traditional “stand at a microphone and speak” model can deter those who prefer to contribute anonymously. Or, for people who like time to process and consider questions, being put on the spot to formulate ideas in the moment may stifle a constructive response.
There are also less overt or unintentional aspects that influence the group dynamic and can prevent free exchange. Being the only young lawyer in a meeting full of seasoned professionals, or the lone woman or member of a racialized community addressing an all-male or all-white panel can be intimidating, leading some to stay silent or to not speak as freely as they might otherwise.
Unconscious biases are among the most significant impediments to equality that our Solution Circles are designed to uncover and solve for. Accordingly, it’s important that we are mindful of both their existence and their impact on communication throughout the process.
I would also encourage you to reflect on examples of “accidental” or well-intentioned structures, assumptions or behaviours you’ve encountered in your own professional life. Consider events that have opened your eyes to harmful, ‘gendered’ thinking that discounted others or dissuaded them from effectively involving themselves or advancing in the workplace. Have you experienced gender bias yourself? Is there anything you wish had done in the moment or after the fact, to counteract the imbalance or correct the mistaken belief? Alternatively, if you feel you handled the situation well, what did you do?
Collecting distinct and diverse accounts of inequality from all corners of the profession will allow us, as an association, to view the problem and underpinning factors through multiple lenses and to identify potential solutions and appropriate next steps – all of which will be shared with members at our Momentum Summit next year.
To effect constructive change we need to feel free to express ourselves fully and to follow any path that might lead to a solution. In the interest of furthering equality, no thoughtful opinion, option, or approach can be discounted. I hope you’ll join us at one of our upcoming Solution Circles to lend your voice to the conversation.
To offer your suggestions for how we can make our Solution Circles inviting, enriching and effective for all, please email me at Lynne.firstname.lastname@example.org.