Thought-provoking questions, lively discussion at IP Day Diversity Breakfast

  • June 08, 2017

Building on the success of last year’s inaugural “Diversity Networking Breakfast,” intellectual property lawyers once again kicked off the CBA’s annual IP day with a lively and thought provoking discussion of diversity issues facing our profession. The breakfast gathering was followed by a full day of IP CLE culminating in a black tie dinner held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. 

IP Day Town HallModerated by Nisha Anand (Gilbert’s), the panelists, Justice Henry Brown and Madam Prothonotary Mireille Tabib from the Federal Court of Canada, Dominique Hussey (Bennett Jones), and Yael Bienenstock (Torys), provided unique perspectives on diversity from both the bench and the bar. 

To open the discussion and encourage candid answers to tough questions, Nisha Anand lauded the interview of Marguerite Ethier (then of Lenczner’s) in November 2015. Ms. Ethier provided the profession with a frank (and some would say unpopular) view into her experience as a lawyer, especially in her early years of practice. The interview led to tremendous discussion in the bar – especially among young women going through similar issues today. Thankfully, each of the panelists was similarly forthright about their views, leading to a thoughtful discussion.

Each of the panelists began by telling their personal stories or views on diversity, which ranged from thought-provoking to heartbreaking to hilarious. Prothonotary Tabib spoke about her experiences entering school in a small town with her father’s “foreign” accent and family name, and later being the only woman in a male-dominated department at her firm. Justice Brown enlightened the audience about the feeling of being perceived as “other” and the subtext of not belonging. Yael Bienenstock spoke about going through law school and early years of practice while at the same time having a large family with young children. And for those of us that thought that Canada is truly the land of equal opportunity, Dominique Hussey taught us that outright racism is alive and well in this country, especially as a child growing up in small town Ontario.

IP Day Town HallRegardless of their perspectives, the panelists highlighted the same themes: it is only when we are truly ourselves that we are able to be the best lawyers that we can be – and that mandates not hiding our differences, but embracing them; when we see diversity it means we are succeeding in providing opportunities for the best lawyers from all walks of life to thrive in this profession; and while the IP bar has come a long way, there is still work to do.

Nisha Anand had thought provoking questions for the panelists. Why should we strive for diversity in our profession? What do we think about quotas, or targets as a vehicle to increase diversity? When three lawyers are up for partnership, and the top two in business development are men, do we offer partnership to the number three who is a women? That one had the panelists tossing the question around like a hot potato, but they were saved by an answer from the audience – if this happens year after year, then we are doing something wrong.

Animated discussions continued through breakfast and throughout the day, as lawyers from different generations and backgrounds contemplated what diversity means to them and how we as a community can strive to achieve it. And the conversation still continues – looking forward to next year!

Nisha Anand is a partner with Gilbert’s LLP and Yael Bienenstock is counsel with Tory’s LLP.