Canadian Lawyer InHouse

September/October 2019

Legal news and trends for Canadian in-house counsel and c-suite executives

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Page 27 of 47

28 TO SOME PEOPLE, the thought of organizing diversity training could be seen as a difficult and draining task, but not to Althea Francis. In fact, she considers the opportunity to educate others about inclusivity and diversity to be a blessing. "As a woman of colour — I grew up in Jamaica — issues about gender, race and also socio-eco- nomic status are near and dear to my heart. I think it's almost like breathing for me, quite frankly. I know it's a difficult topic, but it seems very simple to me." As senior Crown counsel with the Ontario regional office of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Francis has a demanding job, but she was more than happy to add to her duties and responsibilities to be the Toronto area member of the organization's national equity and diversity committee. "When I got appointed two years ago, I thought, 'I'm a very busy person, I've got a very busy litigation practice. And I have a family at home' . . . but I think this is an important job and I'm going to do it well." The members volunteer their time on the committee and work to come up with educa- tion and awareness programs for Crown lawyers and staff members. While there are national Breaking down barriers with diversity training Althea Francis spearheads events and training to educate others about inclusivity and diversity that benefit all of us," says Suess, adding that "we have over a 90-per-cent success rate in executing leases with these clauses. It's not something that tenants are resisting, but if we hadn't put it in, I don't know that they would have asked for it." Another value that is important not just to Suess but to the company is ensuring that women have equal opportunities in the work- place and on the company's board. Suess began the women's initiative soon after joining, and now the company holds quarterly events and has an internal mentoring program. "What I had said initially is that this is very important to do, but it only works if the men agree to show up, because the women already know what needs to happen. We need the men to actually buy into this, and they have at every level. I've been very lucky, I think, from a timing perspective — both socially and at RioCan's point in history — and it's just been a very happy moment to be able to bring forward an initiative of this nature." Additionally, she has worked to support the board of directors in its efforts to increase the number of women in its ranks. Currently, one- third of its members are women, a percentage that is higher than average in the general Canadi- an business landscape and, according to Suess, especially uncommon in the real estate world. Suess says offering advice to the board includes providing information on the latest academic re- search about diversity and inclusion and reports on board management best practices. Suess also revamped the company's existing whistleblower program, which resulted in "a tre- mendous uptake in people who started using the program in a very effective way." Suess explains that part of that retooling involved putting her own face front and centre as the representative of the legal department, reassuring staff mem- bers that there were robust policies in place to deal with whistleblower situations and spending time educating them about the process. "I think it gave [employees] some com- fort when I stood up and said, 'here is the anon- ymous hotline that anyone can call if there's an- ticipated or suspected breaches of the code of conduct," she says. "We want to do the right thing as an organiza- tion, but we can't act if we don't know [about problems]." group efforts, members like Francis also cre- ate opportunities for their own regional offices and departments. The first event Francis organized for the Toronto office was focused on the theme of breaking down the barriers around gender and race issues and featured a speaker from the Law Society of Ontario's discrimination and ha- rassment council and a professor from George Brown University, speaking about gender issues. The full-day event also allowed Toronto of- fice employees to have an open and frank discus- sion with management about some of the issues they were experiencing and the concerns they had, including talking about the gender gap and gender disparity and ensuring that women have fair and equal opportunities for advancement. "It was really super heart-warming. It was a great success. It was well attended and it got rave reviews," says Francis. She also organized a training session called justice is blind that was focused on unconscious bias where an expert came in and spoke about exercises to help people identify their unconscious biases as well as work being done to train judges and provide them with checklists to ensure their unconscious biases don't affect their judgments. Francis also encourages and supports col- leagues who want to organize events themselves. An event based on Pride month, for example, was originally developed by a co-worker and made available to people videoconferencing in from satellite offices in Kitchener, Brampton, London and Newmarket, Ont., but it got such a positive reaction that now it is going to be offered across the country. Fortunately, support goes both ways, as Fran- cis is quick to point out that senior department officials have always been very encouraging of her efforts and have been in attendance at all of her events. So far, Francis says, people have been very receptive and appreciative of her efforts and attend willingly. Her programs do not require mandatory attendance. "They come because they're engaged or CATEGORY: Law department diversity COMPANY: Public Prosecution Service of Canada Althea Francis, senior Crown counsel INNOVATIO

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