Metro Morning

These black female lawyers want to support the next Michelle Obama

More than 100 black female lawyers from across Canada are attending an event in Toronto on Friday that supports and showcases women of colour in Canada's legal profession.

Black Female Lawyers Network holds event to talk about overcoming barriers, nurturing future leaders

Jenelle Ambrose, a network board member and a lawyer with Dentons Canada LLP, says: "Essentially, our organization is also about empowering women to have the ability to speak up. We give people access to mentors that they would not necessarily have in a firm environment." (CBC)

Jenelle Ambrose, a lawyer with Dentons Canada LLP, said on Metro Morning that there's no shortage of barriers faced by black female lawyers. 

Sexism, racism, language barriers, and access to mentorship can all hurt a black female lawyer's chances of finding good jobs or articling positions, she said.

That's where the Black Female Lawyers Network comes in. It's an organization that was started in the living room of Denise Dwyer, now an assistant deputy minister at Ontario's education ministry. Its goal is to empower black female lawyers, and years ago, it started a scholarship program for black female law students. 

"Essentially, our organization is also about empowering women to have the ability to speak up," Ambrose said. "We give people access to mentors that they would not necessarily have within a firm environment."

On Friday, more than 100 black female lawyers from across Canada converged on Toronto to attend an event organized by the network, the 10th annual 'Sistahs-in-Law' Retreat and Fundraiser.

"It's a network of women who have come together because of the unique issues that black women face in the profession," said Ambrose. "We came together about 10 years ago to try to address some of those issues." 

Ambrose calls the network "the little organization that could" because of its "very humble beginnings."

Finding. nurturing the next Michelle, Hillary 

Ambrose said the retreat and fundraiser is especially important this week, given the recent U.S. presidential election in which Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, despite her education, credentials and experience. 

"What we are hoping is that with our organization that we are hopefully training or at least mentoring the next Hillary Clinton, the next Michelle Obama," she said.

"We want to see more women of colour in firms. We want to see more women of colour on the bench. We want to see more women of colour becoming benchers."

We have a number of Hillary Clintons out there. We have a number of Michelle Obamas out there. We need to ensure we find ways to support them.- Jenelle Ambrose, lawyer

Ambrose said it's important to support women's organizations especially at this time after the U.S. election.

"For any women who out there listening, it's important to remember you must do what think you cannot do, to paraphrase an Eleanor Roosevelt quote here," Ambrose said.

"We have a number of Hillary Clintons out there. We have a number of Michelle Obamas out there. We need to ensure we find ways to support them."

The event include a panel of speakers on "Unsung Civil Libertarians," a workshop entitled "Leveraging Aptitude — Preparing to Take the Lead," and a keynote address by N.S. Judge Corrine E. Sparks, the first African Canadian female to serve on the judiciary in Canada.

With files from Metro Morning