A Woman’s Network is Never Done
One of the biggest challenges for women developing their careers in a field such as law is lack of female mentorship, according to Katherine Cooligan, the Ottawa Regional Managing Partner of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG). “But,” she says, “that shouldn’t stop you.”
“Although there are few women in leadership positions in most law firms, I have felt very privileged to have excellent male mentors,” says Cooligan. “One of the benefits that will come as more women advance within senior leadership positions is there will be increased access to female role models. That’s something that I want to be for women.” Cooligan is the first woman and the first family law lawyer to reach the senior leadership position in Ottawa at BLG, the country’s largest national law firm with offices in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.
Known as “Canada’s Law Firm,” BLG specializes in litigation, corporate law, and intellectual property. The firm’s passion, and one that Cooligan exemplifies is to go beyond the transaction, contract, or trial to expand horizons for women within the firm, in business, and in the community as a whole.
BLG is committed to affording women the full opportunity to develop, excel, and become pre-eminent in their fields. Cooligan has been a leader in all of these ways, and is a shining role model to the women in her life of what women can accomplish. This is especially critical in a traditionally male-dominated profession that has seen few women endure the path to partnership and beyond.
“My advice is to persist,” says Cooligan. “Find the support that you need: find your mentors, find your sponsors, and find both personal and professional supports. For each area in which you want to advance, it’s important to find ways that you feel supported. Building a network is important, and building a network of women is important. If there aren’t enough role models within your particular industry, there will be role models within other industries who can help you build your network.” Cooligan’s success is a true testament to her business acumen, leadership skills, and legal expertise in practice.
She is passionate about helping women build their network and succeed in their careers. Most recently she created and chaired a program on Women in Leadership, where topics included credibility, negotiation skills, and giving and receiving feedback. This event was a follow up to her spring tea initiative as a platform to provide women additional avenues to connect. Ottawa’s professional and business women now count on attending Cooligan’s networking and leadership events.
Another way to build your network is to engrain yourself within the local community. Cooligan’s involvement in the community is extensive: she is a member of the Women’s Business Network, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation Board, and the International Women’s Forum, to name a few. She is also a member of the Capital Build Task Force with the Ottawa Board of Trade, and says she values that role very much. “It really goes to the heart of what the city is,” she explains. “It’s a move towards making Ottawa the best city it can be.”
The importance of networking is well documented. According to LinkedIn, 80 per cent of professionals consider networking important to career success, and 70 per cent of people in 2016 were hired by a company where they had a connection. Networking with purpose can be more of a challenge. Research suggests that women statistically attend shorter networking sessions, such as breakfasts or local events, whereas men network using longer events, such as conferences, games of golf, or other sporting events. This can mean less face time with valuable connections, whereas a longer session can result in more meaningful conversation past the initial small-talk. It’s important to create those opportunities for yourself, and build a targeted network of people who will help you along the way.