8 March marks the International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is ‘Each for Equal’ which is about challenging stereotypes, broadening perspectives and celebrating women’s achievements. We spoke with Jennifer Maxwell, President of the Banking, Finance and Capital Markets Commission, about the launch of the AIJA Women’s Network and gender diversity in the legal profession.
1. What inspired you to create the AIJA Women’s Network initiative?
Forty-three per cent of AIJA members are women and fifty-one per cent of AIJA’s officers are women. This high level of participation is impressive, especially when we look at gender diversity statistics from the wider legal sector, which are less encouraging.
Moving towards equal representation requires substantial changes within the legal sector and at a societal level. But we can’t wait for that to happen.
And while each of us can work to effect change within our own practice and firm, I believe that our unique and untapped tools are the networks and capabilities of the women members of AIJA. If we work together and share our experiences, we can build our careers together.
So I shared this idea with several AIJA friends (including Paola Fudakowska, AIJA President), and together we formed the AIJA Women’s Network.
2. What is your main goal for the AIJA Women’s network?
The main goal of our network is to leverage the strength and capabilities of AIJA’s members to promote and progress the advancement of women’s careers in the legal sector.
Our first session at the Annual Congress will be a series of moderated discussions on how to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, build client relationships, and move towards partnership.
We’re going to listen to each other to gain insight from our respective real-life successes and brainstorm about how to work together to move forward in our careers. I believe that we can learn as much from real-life women and their professional experiences, obstacles and successes as we can from experts. Plus, we can help one another.
The long-term goals of the network will be determined by everyone at our first session. So I hope that many people attend so that they can have their say! I also want to mention that in the long term, the network will not be restricted to women.
3. What one piece of advice would you give to a woman thinking of starting a career in law?
While having mentors who are more senior to you is important, it’s just as important to develop strong relationships with people who are at the same stage as you are. These relationships will help your personal and business development, as you can work together to overcome the obstacles that inevitably pop up. The concept of ‘peer mentorship’ is the main driver behind our network’s first session.
4. The number of women joining the legal profession is rising. What impact do you think a more representative split at the top of the profession would have?
The number of women entering the legal profession has been high for many years. The real problem is how to keep women in law. For example, in Germany, up to 50% of the first-year associates are women, but at the equity partner level only 16% of partners are women.
It’s been proven in study after study that having women in decision-making roles improves company performance. Diversity equals profitability, and the same principles apply to the legal sector.
5. Which powerful woman do you admire the most and why?
The women I most admire and who have had the most impact on me are those who are in my day-to-day life. I have been lucky to work with some incredible women (both colleagues and clients) who have shown me, by example or through mentorship, new ways to address the societal and professional barriers that we face as women lawyers. That being said, I must also state that Beyonce is amazing. #beyhive
6. What does this year’s International Women’s Day 2020 slogan #eachforequal mean to you?
It’s a reminder that while the world is moving ever closer towards equality, we must all play our part to make those vital changes happen.