Borden Ladner Gervais LLP focuses on diversity at International Women's Day luncheon

Guest speaker Komal Minhas takes advantage of video-conferencing option to curb coronavirus concerns
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Katherine Cooligan, regional managing partner of Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) LLP, welcomes invited guests to BLG's International Women's Day luncheon in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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International Women’s Day continues to make quite the impression, having evolved from a one-day event into a month-long celebration that was embraced Thursday by the Ottawa office of Canada’s largest full-service law firm, Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG), located in the World Exchange Plaza.

A cross-section of guests, mostly women, were invited to a luncheon hosted by Katherine Cooligan, a recognized role model in Ottawa for women and community leaders. She's chair of the Royal Ottawa Foundation's Women for Mental Health and is involved with the Ottawa Board of Trade, CHEO Foundation and United Way, among other organizations.

Cooligan, a specialist in family law, has made it a priority since becoming regional managing partner of BLG to encourage and support women in their pursuit of leadership positions.

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From left, Danielle Viel, a labour relations advisor at the Association of Canadian Financial Officers, with Cynthia Little, vice president of philanthropy at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, and Borden Ladner Gervais regional managing partner Katherine Cooligan, host of the law firm's International Women's Day luncheon, held Thursday, March 12, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The room collectively listened to Ottawa guest speaker Komal Minhas. She's one of the producers and co-creators of the Dream, Girl documentary that tells the stories of inspiring and ambitious female entrepreneurs. It premiered May 2016 at the White House during the Obama years. The Carleton University journalism graduate also interviewed Michelle Obama in our nation's capital last year, at an event held in partnership with the Ottawa Board of Trade.

Minhas and some of the other guests joined the luncheon ‘virtually’ due to coronavirus concerns. The absences made for a much smaller and more intimate gathering than normal.

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Hannah Steele, senior staff accountant at Welch LLP, with her father, Garth Steele, partner at Welch LLP, and her mom, Cathy Steele, corporate controller with Mahogany Harbour Capital Corporation, at the International Women's Day luncheon, hosted Thursday, March 12, 2020, by the Ottawa office of Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) LLP. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Claudia Morrison, regional trust advisor at RBC Wealth Management, with host Katherine Cooligan, regional managing partner of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Ottawa, and Erin Clatney, owner of Dish Catering, at the International Women's Day luncheon, held Thursday, March 12, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The speaker told the room, via video conference, how the motivation for making Dream, Girl was not only about putting entrepreneurial women in the forefront but also about accurately reflecting the diversity that surrounds us. Four of the five main characters in the film are women of colour.

"(Diversity) is something that I value so much because when I look around the streets and see people who look like me, I feel the belonging, I feel included."

“Because, that’s the world we live in,” said Minhas. “When I walk through the streets of Toronto, diversity is a part of the nature of the city. It’s something that I value so much because when I look around the streets and see people who look like me, I feel the belonging, I feel included.”

She talked about how the tremendous success of Dream, Girl was coupled with personal turmoil. Minhas was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer that required two invasive surgeries. After she was in the clear with the cancer, she was hit with a neurological illness. It led to her leaving Brooklyn, NY and heading back to Canada, where she learned, as she slowly recovered, the importance of looking after her own health.

“After getting sick, it took me two and a half years to accept that, if I wanted to make the impact I wanted to make in the world, I had to set really strong health boundaries. 

"If we self-sacrifice, if we become unwell in our process of building a purpose-driven career, what’s the point?"

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From left, Ottawa Community Foundation board chair Susan St. Amand, founder and president of Sirius Financial Services, with BLG partner Pamela Cross at the International Women's Day luncheon, held Thursday, March 12, 2020 at the Ottawa office of BLG. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Cooligan posed a series of thoughtful questions to the speaker before the floor was opened up to audience members. Minhas, who's only 30 years old, said if she were to give her younger self some advice, it would be to "take your time."

"It's great that I'm 30 and all these things have happened but I could be 35 and all these things could have happened," she said. "I think it comes from seeing how hard my (immigrant) parents worked, and thinking you have to go hard, or that's it. I'd say to (my younger self): slow down, take it easy, read a couple of books, be a little reckless. You can do it; you have time for it."

Guests were also asked to write down a lesson that they’d learned at the luncheon, onto a custom-printed seed-infused cards. With just a little soil and some regular watering, the cards should eventually bloom with wildflowers.

BLG has developed a Driven by Women program to offer women in business and law a platform to connect, along with the opportunities to share ideas and support each other. The initiative started in its Vancouver office and has now expanded to all five Canadian offices.

BLG is also one of several law firms to make the list of Canada’s 75 best diversity employers.

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From left, BLG partner Kathleen McDormand with senior associate Jane Bachynski, partner Gail Silver and partner Curtis Behmann at the International Women's Day luncheon, held Thursday, March 12, 2020 at the Ottawa office of BLG. Photo by Caroline Phillips

– caroline@obj.ca