For Women in Law By Women in Law

2022 National Wellness Study – Part VII: Navigating the Legal Landscape – Challenges and Solutions for Women in Canadian Law

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Welcome to the seventh post in our series on “The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada” (the “Study”).

This groundbreaking study, published by the Université de Sherbrooke, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and the Canadian Bar Association in December 2022, delves into the intricacies of the legal profession in Canada and the factors that impact the psychological well-being of legal professionals. In this post, we will focus on the experiences of women in the legal field, shedding light on the unique challenges they face, and exploring potential solutions.


Changing Tides: Women in the Legal Profession

Over the last three decades, the legal profession in Canada has seen a significant influx of women, reshaping a landscape that was once predominantly male. However, while progress has been made, the legal profession remains deeply entrenched in a masculine and hierarchical tradition, where women continue to grapple with finding their rightful place. This cultural underpinning can be especially challenging when it comes to balancing family responsibilities, making it difficult for women to excel and advance in the field.


Factors Hindering Progression

The retention and advancement of women in the legal profession are hampered by various factors, as elucidated by the authors of the Study:

1. Mental Health Concerns: The study reveals that women in the legal profession are more affected by mental health concerns. The demands of both professional and family obligations can lead to an overwhelming sense of responsibility for women, affecting their psychological well-being.

2. Early Career Distress: Women with fewer than 15 years of experience appear to experience more significant distress compared to their male counterparts. A gender gap in psychological distress becomes more pronounced as both men and women progress in their careers.

3. Burnout: Women and men with fewer than 15 years of experience face significant levels of burnout. While the gender gap isn’t substantial, it is still significant. Furthermore, as women gain more than a decade of experience, they become more affected by depressive symptoms compared to men.

Working Conditions and Their Impact

A more in-depth analysis of women in their early legal careers reveals the following associations:

Lack of Resources: A lack of resources is linked to an increase in burnout feelings.

Consistency of Organizational and Personal Values: This factor is associated with decreased depressive symptoms and burnout feelings.

Telework: Telework opportunities are related to decreased depressive symptoms and burnout feelings for women with less than 10 years of experience.

For women lawyers with more than 10 years of experience, these associations emerge:

Recognition: Recognition at work can decrease depressive symptoms and burnout feelings.

Relationship Status: Being in a relationship can lead to an increase in depressive symptoms. While the Study does not explain why this may be, it is likely associated with the increase social and familiar pressures that are associated with being in a relationship.


Tools for Organizations

The Study points towards several tools that firms can employ to support and empower women in the legal profession:

Prevent Quantitative Work Overload: Work overload increases depressive symptoms and burnout feelings in women, irrespective of their experience. As such, workplaces should be cognizant of the level of work assigned to lawyers, and ensure support measures are in place for employees when they start to feel overwhelmed.

-Telework: Providing women with opportunities to work from home can allow a better work-life balance. Women most often are the ones who adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children and other family members collide. As such, being able to work remotely can allow women to respond to their family obligations while simultaneously balance competing work priorities.

Autonomy and Career Opportunities: Providing autonomy and clear career advancement opportunities can decrease depressive symptoms and burnout feelings for women.

In conclusion, women in the legal profession in Canada face unique challenges and psychological stressors. It’s crucial for organizations to recognize these challenges and implement strategies to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment. By addressing the specific needs and experiences of women in the field, the legal profession can continue to evolve towards greater gender equality and improved psychological well-being for all its members. This Study offers valuable insights into this important journey of change within the legal profession.


About the Authors

Guest Blogger, Karina Alibhai

Karina Alibhai is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Commercial Litigation and Construction Groups. Karina joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2020, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2021. She received her bachelor’s degree, from McGill University in 2017, where she focused her studies on International Development. Karina attended law school at Thompson Rivers University and graduated in 2020.

Grace Smyth-Bolland is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Business Law Group. Grace joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2021, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2022. She completed her law and philosophy degrees at Adelaide University in 2015 and 2016 before immigrating to Canada from Australia in 2017.

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