Systemic Change: What role will you play?

  • December 12, 2021
  • Celeste M. Young

As lawyers, we are in engaged in a consistent pursuit of learning and professional development – to maintain our fearless advocacy efforts and to stay informed of all available arguments and strategies for the betterment of our clients and the advancement of the profession. This is a commitment that should be applied with equal enthusiasm to our understanding of diversity, inclusivity, and equity initiatives.

It is within this spirit that I entered the virtual room where the “RODA’s 7th Annual Diversity Conference in Partnership with the OBA: Systemic Change What Role Will You Play?” was being held. This conference was an empowering, impactful experience that challenged me to think critically of my own privilege, leveraging my diversity, discovering my own opportunities for allyship, and what systemic advocacy in the courts and within different business models looks like, while equipping me with tools for further growth. Without sharing too many spoilers, hoping that readers will take advantage of the replay, I wanted to share a couple of highlights – primarily addressing how the intersection of conscious allyship and advocacy can be the catalyst for action and systemic change.

Koren Lightning-Earle, lawyer, Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, sessional instructor, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta, and Adrian Ishak, chair of RODA, shared their legal journeys and their vulnerable truths. In doing so, it opened the space for us to do the same in our respective breakout sessions. Lightning-Earle reminded us that when we share our truths, shame goes away. We can create communities through unity with the power of our words and action. She noted that even though we may exist in a system that was not created for us (marginalized communities), there are opportunities to advocate for change and inclusivity. However, it begins with having difficult conversations, introspection, taking risks, and inviting others into your spaces.[1] Adrian acknowledged the circumstances of growing up in the system may cause us to uphold the status quo or rebel against it. Our degree of influence, agency, power, and privilege can be situational; however, he noted our current stories of marginalization can transform into action. Providing we make a conscious choice to advocate for ourselves and others. [2]

Deciding on whether to get involved will indubitably lead to a cost/benefit analysis and strategies. However, what if the load could be shared? Would that influence your decision? Conscious Allyship was one of the concepts that was discussed in the “Evaluating your role in challenging systemic discrimination and inequity,” session with Dr. Ganz Ferrance, Ph.D., R.Psych., The Ferrance Group, and Amanda Knight, Amanda Knight Consulting. Particularly, how far would our advocacy for change go if we could acknowledge the allyship within each other? 

Conscious Allyship is an “organizational core value, a skill set that that can be learned.”[3] Dr. Ganz and Amanda Knight navigated through the six stages of Conscious Allyship: “choosing allyship, finding solutions through diversity, becoming an accomplice, doing no further harm, validating harm, challenging fragility and being pulled by the vision of allyship.”[4] Attendees were presented with the opportunities to experiment and discuss scenarios through the lens of Conscious Allyship. Conscious Allyship is about educating yourself on the issues impacting marginalized communities, engaging in dialogues about the obstacles and experiences your colleagues/clients are facing, asking questions, being curious, not making assumptions and inquiring on how you can be of service. It is about a growth mindset and being solution-oriented, understanding that their harms did not happen overnight. The path to change will be no different; it will require consistent effort and engagement. Significantly, it is an extension of our ethical duties to be culturally competent, enabling us to better serve our clients and facilitate stronger connections to our colleagues and communities.

Systemic change cannot flourish in a silo; it will require effort from several hands and feet. However, fruits of the labour are only shared by all when varied voices are given the opportunity to contribute and create a comprehensive action plan. What role will you play? How will you contribute to the advancement of the profession? Where will you stand? I recommend starting at the RODA Conference.

About the author

Celeste M. Young is a lawyer licensing candidate interested in social justice advocacy.




[1] Koren Lightning-Earle, speaker at “RODA’s 7th Annual Diversity Conference in Partnership with the OBA:

Systemic Change What Role Will You Play?

[2] Adrian Ishak, speaker at “RODA’s 7th Annual Diversity Conference in Partnership with the OBA:

Systemic Change What Role Will You Play?

[3] Dr Ganz Ferrance & Amanda Knight 2021, pg. 4 of PowerPoint Slide

[4] Ibid, pg. 10 PowerPoint slide.