Lawyers from Canada’s top law firms, in-house legal departments and companies top this year’s Women’s Executive Network list of Canada’s Most Powerful Women.
The list, as determined by WXN, is produced each year to highlight the achievements of women across the country. This year, 21 women lawyers made the list, representing a broad range of backgrounds and leadership positions.
The winners were recognized at a gala in Toronto Nov. 24.
For many of the women on the list, having the right mentor has made a difference in their careers. Claire Kennedy, partner in the corporate tax practice at Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto, cites Judy Goldring, former chairwoman of the board at University of Toronto, as a “helpful sounding board” for her and one of her nominators for the Top 100.
Kennedy began a term as chairwoman of U of T’s governing council in July of this year.
A seasoned board director, Kennedy also serves on the executive of the International Fiscal Association’s Canadian branch and is an officer of the International Bar Association’s taxes committee.
“I think when looking to serve on a board the key is to think about what your value proposition is. Lawyers are a natural fit on boards. In many ways, we have a lot of governance expertise and our domain expertise. Those two things can make a lawyer a valuable addition to a board,” she says. “Fit is important, too, whether it’s a public company or a not-for-profit or charity,” she says.
For women looking to join a board for the first time, Kennedy says there are many opportunities in the not-for-profit sector.
“It allows you to develop your board skills and get comfortable in your role as director and it’s a good networking opportunity,” she says.
In terms of advice for future generations of women lawyers who aspire to lead, Kennedy says there will be a need to be flexible and to continue to identify and be ready to jump on new areas of law.
“Consider that marijuana practice wasn’t a practice area five years ago and now it’s a huge practice. There are opportunities for these kinds of niches whether regulatory or otherwise. There’s also cybersecurity as a burgeoning area for litigation lawyers. Cybersecurity risk wasn’t something top of mind five years ago and now it’s a top issue for any board and, as a consequence, for lawyers advising boards or corporations,” she says.
She also advises women to “seize the opportunity when it arises.”
“It may arise at a time when you think you’re not ready for it — if it’s interesting and rewarding, it’s probably a bit of a stretch assignment,” she says. “You have to go for it. If it doesn’t give you a bit of a queasy feeling, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough.”
Nadia Petrolito, vice president and general counsel at L’Oréal Canada, says being called “powerful” is about being able to effect change. Petrolito joined the cosmetics company in 2006 and was leading and building its legal department soon after.
“For me, it is more about the power to influence, to change things and challenge the status quo. I am humbled to join WXN’s network of powerful women and I admire their mission dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women leaders and the promotion of diversity,” she says.
When asked how organizations can better achieve gender parity and diversity, Carol Derk of BLG pointed to the increasing involvement of women in the management of law firms and as general counsel of major corporations.
Those representing the legal field on the list for 2017 include:
In-house & Business
• Norie Campbell, group head and chief general counsel, TD Bank Group
If given the opportunity to trade places for one day, Campbell says it would be with Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin
• Nadia Petrolito, vice president and general counsel and chief communications officer, L’Oréal Canada
• Shannon Rogers, president and chief legal officer, Global Relay, a global pioneer in cloud technology and leader in enterprise information archiving, compliance messaging and e-discovery
• Joanna Rotenberg, group head, BMO Wealth Management, BMO Financial Group
• Manuelle Oudar, president and CEO, Commission des normes, de l’équité de la santé et de la sécurité du travail
• Laurel C. Broten, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc.
• Carol Derk, partner in Borden Ladner Gervais LLP’s Toronto office and national leader of the firm’s derivatives group and structured products group
• Melinda Park, partner in the securities and capital markets group in BLG’s Calgary office
• Caroline Zayid, partner and national litigation practice group leader, McCarthy Tétrault LLP
• Sharon Geraghty, partner, Torys LLP, in the area of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and securities law
• Janet Grove, managing partner, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, in the technology and health-care sectors
• Claire Kennedy, corporate tax and transfer pricing lawyer, Bennett Jones LLP
• Valerie Mann, mergers and acquisition lawyer with Lawson Lundell LLP. She is chairwoman of the firm’s technology law group and co-chair of its M&A practice.
• Lisa Munro, executive committee member and managing partner, Lerners LLP (Toronto). She is the sole female member of the firm’s four-person executive committee. During her tenure, the Toronto office achieved gender parity among its partners.
• Nancy Hill, founding partner with Hill & Schumacher Professional Corp., patent and trademark agents
• Patricia Olasker, senior partner, Davies Ward Phillips and Vineberg LLP. Who would she trade places with for one day? Donald Trump. “I would resign.”
• Melinda Park, partner and chairwoman of the board, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Calgary. She heads up BLG’s partnership board and is chairwoman of the firm’s audit committee.
• Cheryl Reicin, partner and co-chairwoman of the life science practice at Torys LLP. When asked how to achieve gender parity and diversity, she said: “Individualized career paths. The more we allow lawyers to play to their strengths, the more diversity will be accepted and valued.”
• Lisa Phillips, provost and professor, Osgoode Hall Law school, York University
• Samantha Horn, partner, Stikeman Elliott LLP. She is a member of the Toronto office’s management committee and former co-head of the M&A and private equity group. WXN Hall of Fame.
• Dale Ponder, managing partner and chief executive officer, Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. WXN Hall of Fame.