On International Women’s Day 2020, I cannot help but be proud of the achievements of Lerners in the quest for gender equality. From something as small as providing free feminine hygiene products for employees, to being one of the best firms in the entire country on the gender parity scorecard, through its actions and not just its words, Lerners does what it can to help create a gender equal world.
Lerners has been ahead of the gender equality curve for decades. One of the main reasons is that our firm leadership seeks out excellence – regardless of gender. In 1969, Earl Cherniak and his partners hired a young woman, Janet Stewart, to join Lerners as an associate. She was the first female lawyer the firm hired and has been a trailblazer ever since. The stories Janet can share about being a woman in the then man’s world of law are evidence of how far Lerners has come in becoming gender equal. One of my favourites is that there was a debate over what the male lawyers would call her – “Janet” or “Miss Stewart”. It was ultimately decided that she would be called “Janet”, because as Earl pointed out, that is her name.
Gender equality starts from the top. Lerners’ first managing partner was – you guessed it – Janet Stewart. She held this position for well over a decade. Two women, Anne Spafford (our current Managing Partner in Toronto) and Tammy Ring, sit on our four-member Executive Committee. Currently, 38% of our partners are female (with 46% of our lawyers being women).
Gender equality is far from the norm in law firms in Ontario as women progress through their careers. Despite there being almost equal female and male law school graduates, the female attrition from the profession is astounding. According to the Law Society of Ontario’s 2018 Annual Report, when considering all practicing lawyers in the province, 12.4% were male law firm partners, and only 4.3% were female partners.
Lerners was highlighted in a Toronto Star article in September 2019, Analysis finds biggest law firms employ plenty of women – but there aren’t many of them at senior levels, as having the highest percentage of female partners across 16 of Canada’s largest law firms consulted. Notably, 14 law firms failed to provide data at all for the article.
In addition to supporting gender equality internally, the firm promotes it in the wider community as well. In Toronto, we have hosted the Extraordinary Women’s Extravaganza for the last 15 years. The Extravaganza provides an opportunity for female lawyers to network in a supportive environment. In London, we host the Women’s Symposium, a speaker’s series that addresses professional development issues for women. It provides a forum for women to come together and learn from each other, and is focussed on the advancement of women in the workplace. Both of these events have the goal of women inspiring women.
Considerable work still needs to be done across the country to ensure that more women are at the leadership table – in all industries, but especially the legal profession. Lawyers are the public’s protectors of civil liberties – both in the court room and through advocacy when legislation is being drafted. In order to ensure that laws reflect all members of the community, the female voice needs to be heard.
International Women’s Day 2020 is championing the message #EachforEqual: an equal world is an enabled world. Lerners is proud to be a leader in making an equal world a reality.