This is my first contribution to our TLR blog and I’ve chosen not to write about a legal topic. Rather, I’m sharing the story of my mom and how she has shaped my approach to my law practice.
My mom was a divorced, single mom raising two kids and taking care of her widowed mother (my grandma lived with us throughout my childhood). Mom worked in sales for most of her career and still does. She worked in a male-dominated world in the 80s and 90s: real estate, car sales and financial planning. Sales is a tough, eat-what-you-kill world, whether you’re male or female. But it’s even tougher for a single mom. There was no guaranteed income each month to pay the mortgage. Mom operated in survival mode. I remember her coming home from work each night, making dinner followed by more work in her home office, house chores and then collapsing onto the bed. It took its toll on my mom’s health.
Mom experienced everything imaginable, from workplace harassment to bullying. I remembered hearing her frustrations: her legitimate management concerns were trivialized, her suggestions were discounted at office meetings only to be later applauded when voiced by a male colleague. She experienced regular inappropriate comments about her physical appearance rather than recognition for her obvious competence and she was passed over for promotions or more lucrative files in favour of less qualified male counterparts.
I’m a female lawyer in the 21st century. I have so much more than my mom ever had. I’m armed with two university degrees, a strong mom as my role model, and a supportive spouse and business partner. Early in my legal career, I had the privilege of working with male lawyers who generously shared their knowledge with me as mentors and who treated me with respect as an equal.
Life is easier for me, but the subtle gender biases do persist and I feel this every day of my life. I’m sure if you ask any woman in your life, she’ll agree. We continue to be paid less, on average, than males of the same skill level, we’re still more likely to be perceived as less competent than our male colleagues (albeit more subtly, which can be more insidious), our physical appearance judged and we must still be mindful of our personal safety every day - whether we’re in an empty, dark parkade or out for a morning jog.
These biases against women are entrenched – the female voice is a whisper in the presentation of our collective history. I see this in my law practice, even in 2022. I hear my female clients tell me that many male professionals simply don’t listen to us; we’re talked down to, our concerns are minimized and we’re not respected.
As I write this article, I’m hesitant to express these sentiments. I’m thinking this will come off as the “angry feminist” to my readers. But I then remind myself that my hesitations are the product of reinforcing that whispered female voice. I don’t need to apologize for speaking about what was my mother’s reality and what continues to be a reality for women. My message isn’t about expressing female anger or resentment. Rather, it’s to express how my mother’s experience profoundly informs my legal career, especially in my delivery of legal services to my female clients.
When a female client meets with me, I see my mom. In front of me is a woman who’s strong and intelligent, but very tired. She needs fewer complications in her life. She’s the client who needs me to connect with her and listen. She needs me to acknowledge her worth. She needs my professional, compassionate guidance as she works through difficult issues in her personal life or business. I want my female clients’ voices to be heard – whether they’re business owners, executors of family estates or buying and selling property. It’s my commitment to all of my clients (male and female) that their experience at TLR Law will be one of respect, acknowledgement and compassionate support.