For Women in Law By Women in Law

Shifting Paradigms: Unveiling Gender Equality’s Unfinished Dealings

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Recently – we’re talking within the last month, and I have been stewing about it ever since – I played poker with my husband and four of his male friends. I have been playing with this group of men for years – 20 or so and most of this group have been playing together since they were in their teens and they are all in their mid-60s now. There was, however, one significant difference on this Saturday night. A new player was introduced to our familiar table who didn’t know anything about me. A few rounds in the others were goading me into a bet and I took the bait. A six dollar bet on a couple of Aces. As this was happening, this new player turned to my husband and said “thank God you make money so that she can play this game”. Dear reader, he was stone-cold serious. It seemed a foreign concept to him that women might become professionals and earn their own money. To make matters worse, he has both a wife and a daughter.

I shared this story with my niece who told me she was recently on a business trip in Toronto where a male colleague in his mid-40s asked her who was looking after her two-year-old daughter. He too was serious – as if he had never heard of co-parenting.

Recently I also read in the news that China posits that it could resolve its workforce crisis if women stayed home and had children. While it may solve one problem, it obviously creates another.

How is it that we have made so many strides forward and yet we are still stuck? Where have we gone wrong?

Reflecting on these events it seems to me that we, as a global community, have not engaged men in a way that has caused them to change or desire to change a set of entrenched beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong, women in the practice of law have moved forward in some respects. Take for example the recently proposed (and approved in principle) amendment to the Law Society of BC Return to Practice Rules.   The proposed amendment will make it less onerous for women, and others who have left the practice, to return after a leave for a period of time. This amendment, in part, is meant to apply to the non-practicing lawyer who might have left the practice, for said period of time, for personal  reasons, including parental leave.

The fact remains, however, that lawyers and law firms are part of society and until we all gather momentum together, as a community, we will get nowhere.

I have been struggling with how we might do this. My experience is that the younger generations of male lawyers are more committed to equality of women, at least this is obvious when I speak to them one on one. The commitment of men to the equality is, however, less obvious in the community overall. We need to change this. We need to make equality a norm and not an exception. We need to bring all men to the table. They need to be present at all the same events women attend to advocate and celebrate female accomplishments.

How do we do this? I offer a few ideas.

-Encourage male colleagues and generally the men in your life to attend events that celebrate women. There are many of these in the community and from my experience very few men attend. We’d love to see you there!

-If you are organizing a panel directed at issues women in the practice of law or elsewhere might face for example, invite a male colleague to attend the seminar or even better – invite them to sit on the panel and provide commentary on how men might become champions for women.

-Use your voice. I did not respond to the comment made at the poker table because my husband, who was also quite offended, spoke up. If, however, he did not I would have because it is not just about me. This man had a wife and a daughter, and he needed to be educated on how devoid of reality his statement really was.

-In part, I feel that some men are rebelling against the overwhelming attention women are getting on our quest for equality. I think we will be further ahead if we acknowledge and talk through this issue with our male colleagues and friends rather than dismiss it or keep our battle to ourselves. We want to walk beside men not in front or behind them and to do this we have to engage in a way this is inclusive and supportive.

In essence, progress isn’t a solitary endeavor; it’s a communal effort that requires the active involvement of everyone. To truly advance, we must encourage men to pull up a chair at the metaphorical poker table of gender equality, fostering an environment where everyone has a seat and a voice. Only then can we deal a winning hand for progress and inclusivity.

 

About the Author

Kim Jakeman, KC is a partner at Harper Grey and – in case this is your first time here – also the co-founder of Life in Law. Not only is Kim a skilled mediator, she also maintains a busy dual practice focused mainly on litigation in the area of medical malpractice, and regulatory work involving professionals facing disciplinary proceedings before a variety of regulatory bodies. Kim is almost as passionate about biking, her new love of surfing, and working out as she is about supporting women in the legal profession. A master of her own balancing act, when Kim isn’t busy with work, she spends coveted time with her family and friends.

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