For Women in Law By Women in Law

Carving Your Own Path to Leadership

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It can be daunting to strive for leadership roles in the legal profession. As women, we face certain barriers which impose additional hurdles. There are instances where we are not given the benefit of the doubt, or worse, we are denied a fair and transparent process.

For example, there are two instances where I, unfortunately, was pressured to back away from a leadership position.

Scenario one involved procuring new applicants to apply to a federal board position of a legal organization. It was encouraged that “all applicants of diverse background and experience” apply. In this particular case, I felt I was a strong candidate – I had past board experience on multiple boards, strong leadership skills, and a proven track record of teamwork and accomplishments. In the event more applicants applied than the allotted slots, there would be a public vote. In my case there was another candidate who applied. However, rather than proceeding to the next stage of the selection process (which would have been a public vote) I was sent a letter from the organization indicating that the other individual (a more senior, male candidate) was the preferred contender for the role. The letter stated that if I made the request, they would indeed proceed with a public vote, the subtle undertone indicating a strong preference for the former process. This outcome was disheartening.

Scenario two involved a committee organized by a provincial organization. After one year of service on the committee and without prior warning, I was unilaterally promoted to another role by the organization. Although the promotion caught me by surprise, I was happy to take on more responsibility. However, I found myself once again receiving pressure from other lawyers to step down from this position, because a more senior lawyer wanted the role. At the time I was conflicted and I felt misunderstood.

In both scenarios, I initially felt frustrated and defeated. But in hindsight I learned a lot about myself, including reminding myself of my inner strength, my resilience, and my willingness to move forward to carve my own path to leadership. I soon learned that while these doors had closed, others opened. I was able to get involved in the community in other meaningful and impactful ways.

In short, while it can be challenging and even discouraging to navigate our role as women leaders in this profession, we simply cannot give up at every hurdle. It is easier said than done. But we have the resources, support systems, community, and ourselves to get us where we want to go. Sometimes, the path is not one we imagined (often, it is better).

 

About the Author

Leyla Salmi is a LiL Leader and an associate at Harper Grey practicing with the Firm’s Construction and Engineering Law Group. Leyla takes pride in giving back to the profession and her community. She currently acts as a Beedie Luminaries Mentor, providing mentorship to students as they complete their post-secondary education.

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