Profiting from a More Diverse, Inclusive Society

Ginsberg had it right

Profiting from a More Diverse, Inclusive Society

I am not a person who ever thought that I would end up as a lawyer, let alone as President of CBABC. It’s not that I thought being a lawyer was out of reach for me, per se, it’s just that the thought of being a lawyer never crossed my mind. I didn’t personally know any lawyers growing up; the only lawyers I ever knew were the family lawyers involved in my parents’ and step-parents’ divorces. As I think most family law lawyers will attest, that’s not the kind of introduction to law that makes most children think about it as a fabulous career.

When I did start thinking about law school, as an adult looking for a career choice where I could be of more direct service to my community, I didn’t receive any messages telling me I couldn’t. As a cis-gendered, non-disabled, neurotypical white woman living in Canada, I could look around and see plenty of signs that I would be welcome in law school and be able to practice the kind of public interest law that interested me. I was privileged, though I didn’t recognise it at the time.

Not everyone is so privileged, and we know that bears out in membership in our profession. The Law Society of BC demographics show that in 2019, just 16.15% of members identified as a visible minority, 3.52% as LGBTQ2SI+, 2.71% as Indigenous, and 2.16% as persons with disabilities. It’s unclear how many of those categories might overlap, but even if there is no overlap, we know that these represent lower numbers than we would expect based on the population of BC. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016 — the most recent year for which we have statistics — 30.3% of the BC population identified as visible minority, and 5.9% as Indigenous. In 2012, 14.8% of the BC population identified as having one or more disabilities, and in 2018, approximately 4% of the Canadian population identified as LGBTQ2SI+. What these numbers show, besides a lack of consistent, quality statistics, is that we are still failing to meet our goal of a diverse, inclusive, vibrant legal profession.

So how do we change things? How do we all make sure the legal profession is one where anyone in my old shoes can look at it and see it as a place where they fit, where they’re welcome, where they belong?

The good thing is, we already know answers to these questions. We know that representation is important; if people see themselves reflected in people who are already lawyers or judges, they can better imagine themselves in that role. We know that building a pipeline is important; if we teach kids before they graduate from high school that they can become lawyers and would be welcome in the profession, they are more likely to pursue law as a career. We also know that fostering inclusivity is important; if all of us feel like we are welcome and have agency and options in our careers, we’re more likely to stay in the practice and contribute to making the legal profession and the justice system more equitable and accessible.

So like I said, we know some basic answers. What we all need to do is look at our own practices and our own lives and ask ourselves if we contribute to equality and diversity, and if there is more we can do. As the late great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “We will all profit from a more diverse, inclusive society, understanding, accommodating, even celebrating our differences, while pulling together for the common good.”

At CBABC, we believe in equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in the legal profession and the justice system, and we are committed to the process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. If you’ve visited our website or read our Mission, you already know that. But what does it look like on the ground? We have a Reconciliation Action Plan for our Branch, which we reflect upon and update as we engage with it. We offer our members a variety of resources on Truth and Reconciliation, Reducing Bias and Prejudice, Promoting Racial Inclusivity, and LGBTQ2SI+ issues. We actively promote diversity — including geographical and practice diversity, and additional issues more unique to CBABC — in our Sections, on our Committees, and in our leadership.

None of us of course has this perfect. I’m most certainly not perfect. This is ongoing work, that involves engagement and dialogue and effort. I look forward to engaging in that ongoing work with all of you.

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