On supporting women: I first realized the importance of supporting women in business and the professions (and everywhere else, for that matter) when I made the transition from being a law student (where at least 50% of my class was female) to becoming a lawyer in a large firm where women were leaving in droves after articles or practising for only a short time, and where only a handful of women among the 60 or so partners in the firm were women. Similar statistics were typical of most large law firms in Canada at that time. Unfortunately, not much has changed since my legal infancy in terms of the numbers of women staying in the profession and achieving partnership in the larger firms. Encouragingly, however, there is now a stronger awareness in the profession, and in the business world generally, about the need to provide better supports for women in the workplace so that women can and do stay in the game and reach positions of leadership where their unique perspectives and values-based approaches can bring significant benefits.
I am committed to doing what I can to ensure that women achieve equality in professional firms, in the boardroom, in the executive suite, in government, and in community. My passion stems from the real and measurable benefits to society that can be enjoyed by everyone when women are empowered and contribute. Countless reliable research pieces and shining examples in our own community can be cited in support of this conclusion.
We are now at a cross-roads in our global history where a less conventional approach – a much stronger humanitarian values-based approach to leadership – must govern how we conduct business, politics, and behave in community if we are to over come the oppressing social and financial challenges that currently face us. At the risk of generalizing too much, I believe it is fair to say that women tend to bring strong family and community values to their approaches in the workplace and to their leadership styles. These values inform decisions that might otherwise be driven by purely fiscal considerations. But, reliable evidence is available (e.g. Catalyst Information Centre's report on “Why Diversity Matters”2005-2010) to support the conclusion that approaching decision making with a concern for a combination of fiscal and humanitarian considerations generally reduces risk, increases good performance, enhances brand and increases the financial bottom line.
So what of supporting women? Absolutely, this is and remains an imperative, but I offer this thought in addition: Most women seem to understand the business case for supporting women. There are so many strong and fabulous examples, particularly in the Vancouver business community, of organizations and networks where women's support for women is demonstrable (PWN, GroYourBiz.com; Women President's Organization, WEConnect Canada, AWF, FWE, Women's Leadership Circle at the Board of Trade, YWiB, Women's Enterprise Centre, to name just a few). But, in my experience, while many men of influence would likely agree that women should be supported in the workplace, most do not yet understand or accept the return on investment that undoubtedly materializes when female employees have a respected voice and real opportunity for advancement, and when women leaders contribute their perspectives and those perspectives are incorporated into decisions actually taken. I would suggest that women are generally fabulous supporters of our sisters. What is equally imperative at the current phase of the women's leadership movement, is for women to support men – particularly influential men – to understand and accept the business case for promoting and ensuring women's equality, and to encourage those who do understand and accept to advocate on behalf of women to other men of influence in every pocket of community.
Why we heart Michelle: Sought out across Canada to provide guidance, leadership and direction, Michelle dedicates significant time and energy to several boards and organizations concerned with promoting women in business and leadership. Michelle became a partner of Fasken Martineau while on her maternity leave with her second of her two children (now aged 3 and 6). In addition to her full-time and demanding career as a business lawyer focusing on environmental law and resource project permitting, Michelle’s volunteer commitments include
• Founded in 1997 and continuing to run the Professional Women’s Network (PWN), now with a membership of approximately 1300 women and men across two chapters in Vancouver and Calgary, with Toronto, Montreal and London, England chapters in the works.
• Serving as a trusted advisor on the Advisory Boards of the Young Women in Business Organization (YWiB); GroYourBiz.com – a business development organization for women owned start-ups; Vertical Bridge Human Resources Consulting Group – a human resources services firm; and
• Serving as a Director of the Sarah McLachlan School of Music Foundation – a charity devoted to providing top quality free music education to at-risk youth;
• Serving as a Director of WEConnect Canada – a national non-profit devoted to certifying women owned small and mid-sized enterprises and facilitating opportunities for supplier diversity contracts for them with large global organizations;
Michelle is a member of Vancouver Chapter II of Women Presidents Organization, she is a past director of the Women Lawyers Forum of the Canadian Bar Association, and a past member of the Fundraising Committee of the Minerva Foundation.
In her firm and in the legal profession generally she is recognized as a strong mentor to male and female lawyers.
Respected by all who meet her, Michelle has a following of peers who have developed a deep admiration for her solid capability, her personal generosity and contribution as an advocate of supporting the advancement and success of women. Her hard work, and a passion for the betterment of community is readily transparent when you meet her. For this and particularly for her contributions to the economic empowerment of women through her efforts, Michelle received a World of Difference Award in 2011 from the International Alliance for Women. Each year, this organization recognizes up to 100 extraordinary women from around the world who have made such contributions.
Words to live by: I absolutely LOVE Madeleine Albright's enlightened warning that “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, but here are a couple that for me on my journey are great daily reminders:
“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.” ~ Emily Dickinson, Poet
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we had when we created them.” ~ Einstein