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Canadian, American female general counsel are courageous leaders

Authors of books on female general counsel in Canada and the U.S. share their stories.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in publishing, it’s more about inspiration and continuing dialogue. When Kirby Chown and Carrie Mandel read Courageous Counsel: Conversations with Women General Counsel in the Fortune 500 by Michele Coleman Mayes and Kara Baysinger, they were inspired to continue the dialogue in Canada. Mandel and Chown spoke to female GCs in their home country, eventually writing Breaking Through: Tales from the Top Canadian Women General Counsel.

The two pairs of authors spoke about the similarities and differences between the experiences of women in Canada and the U.S. during a session at the Women, Influence & Power in Law Conference in Washington, D.C.

Mayes and Baysinger talked about the origin of their book. They wanted to chronicle the history of women GC in Fortune 500 companies as well as up-and-coming in-house lawyers and female GCs from other companies. They came up with a tapestry of stories that provided more than a few kernels of wisdom. One interesting fact that they discovered was the few of these women set out to be GCs, but they ended up in a “career spaghetti bowl” that took them along various strands to end up where they were.

Chown outlined some of the similarities between the stories of female GCs in Canada as compared to the U.S. One similarity was that private practices lost women as they migrated in-house. She said that many women did not like the competitive nature of private practice and did not want to be known only as technical experts. They wanted to see the complete picture, interested in the business side as well.

Mandel pointed out some of the differences between the women’s stories in the two nations. One significant factor that contributed to some of the differences was the fact that many of the largest companies in Canada didn’t even have a general counsel. But this provided an opportunity, Mandel said, as half the women she and Chown interviewed were the first-ever general counsel for their company, and many women who were outside counsel working for large companies pitched themselves as the first ever GC for those companies.

The biggest similarity, though, between these women in the U.S. and in Canada was courage. Courage and leadership shone in all of the interviews, and all of the authors hope that the stories they related would serve as inspiration and virtual mentoring for women in both countries.

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