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Celebrating International Women’s Day: Insights from Osgoode’s program directors

March 7, 2024

Elisa Romano

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re excited to amplify the voices and experiences of women who have made significant strides in their careers.

At Osgoode Professional Development, we had the privilege of interviewing four remarkable female program directors, each with a unique journey and valuable insights to share.

Celebrating International Women's Day with four of Osgoode Professional Development's program directors, Jinyan Li, Janet Walker, Andrea Lee and Julia McNally

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Jinyan Li: Scholarly speaking, writing books and journal articles that get cited by the courts, especially the Supreme Court of Canada. As a teacher, igniting the love of tax law in students in both the JD and LLM Tax programs. As a faculty member, serving as the Interim Dean for a year and overseeing the building renovation on top of “regular” operations of the school.

Julia McNally: My proudest career achievement has been my leadership of the IESO’s Pathways to Decarbonization study.  This document has influenced policy and provided Ontario with tangible first steps towards a decarbonized electricity system. 

What advice would you give women to help them overcome barriers in the workplace?

Jinyan Li: I am often reminded of what President Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Janet Walker: Every woman’s challenges are unique – just as their strengths are unique. I would encourage women to be mindful of the particular impact that they experience of workplace challenges and to think of how they might best play to their own strengths in meeting those challenges. None of us comes fully equipped to achieve easily across the range of responsibilities that we have in our work. Some things are easy – others less so, and some challenges are important for us to meet – but others may be less so. There are many ways of succeeding and every time each of us discovers one – large or small – it is worth celebrating.

Why do we need women in leadership?

Janet Walker: I recently heard a talk by the Right Hon Beverley McLachlin PC CC, a woman I admire greatly, on the topic of the benefits of women as judges and arbitrators. I would like to echo some of those thoughts here. To have diversity in leadership – in this case, gender diversity – means to have role models for those who might be inspired to follow them, to have decision-makers with special insight into the impact of their decisions on a range of those affected who might otherwise be overlooked and to have decision-makers who, in collegial discussions, could encourage more thoughtful engagement with important issues.

Andrea Lee: We all know the adage “lead by example”. Having women in leadership serves to inspire the next generation of women to push through and grow from challenges that may arise along the way. In the construction law world, I look at women like Jody Becker of EllisDon, Sharon Vogel of Singleton Urquhart Reynolds Vogel, Sandra Astolfo of Weir Foulds, and Marcia Oliver of Bennett Mechanical as leaders. Through their roles as partners in private practice or executives with construction firms, these women have demonstrated to others how to excel professionally and become trusted advisors in the highly technical, complex and evolving environment that is the construction industry.

Julia McNally: We need women, people of colour and people with disabilities in leadership to visibly demonstrate that anyone can be a leader and to demonstrate that we each bring our own unique strengths and weaknesses which are influenced by but not reducible to our biology. 

What women are you inspired by and why?

Jinyan Li: Madame Marie Curie, who received two Nobel Prizes and Eleanor Roosevelt who helped create the United Nations. They were not deterred or discouraged from achieving their goals.

Andrea Lee: I am inspired by my mother, both in my personal life and my career. She started her own dental practice and managed two offices in her early thirties while raising children and being very involved in our lives. Following in her footsteps, I make conscious efforts daily to find a balance between my family, legal practice, teaching efforts, and my own interests. I find fulfillment in the interesting and complex construction cases that I handle and my interactions with clients, as well as helping my daughters navigate their school work and sports commitments.

Julia McNally: The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir is an inspiration to me.  Not only did de Beauvoir excel in a field long considered the preserve of men (philosophy), but her insights in The Second Sex allowed us to understand that gender is socially constructed – “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”  This insight creates the freedom for biological women to do and be anything they want. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s continue to champion gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in all facets of society. Together, we can pave the way for a more equitable and empowering future for women everywhere.

Happy International Women’s Day!