Nov. 3, 2022

Transdisciplinary and collaborative program aims to accelerate equity, diversity and inclusion

UCalgary Law and Werklund instructors collaborate with community partners with a vision to empower women to lead in law
Start Something banners on UCalgary campus
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Providing women with leadership roles in law is an issue that has faced long-standing barriers. But a collaboration involving the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law hopes to even the playing field.

About three years ago, UCalgary Law, the Women in Law Leadership (WILL) organization and the Law Society of Alberta initiated a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach to develop a new program. Their vision was to start something empowering and transformational to fill the need for leadership courses for women lawyers. 

This partnership resulted in the creation of the WILL program, with important contributions from two UCalgary instructors: Nickie Nikolaou, LLM’00, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law, who provides advice and direction on the program and its curriculum, as well as participates as a panellist; and Dr. Nadia Delanoy, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor at the Werklund School of Education, who provides educational design recommendations for the program, and curriculum, and is the lead instructor in the program alongside UCalgary Law sessional instructor Kyla Sandwith. 

Accelerating equity, diversity and inclusion

“Women in law face barriers to leadership in a multitude of ways, and there is often a lack of support and mentoring for women to navigate these realities,” Nikolaou and Delanoy write in a recent article for National Magazine, published by the Canadian Bar Association.

“The barriers relate to gender stereotypes, harassment, discrimination, as well as differences in wage and earning potential, work assignments, and advancement opportunities as compared to their male counterparts.”

Nicki Nikolaou

Nicki Nikolaou

Faculty of Law

To develop the intensive educational leadership program, Nikolaou and Delanoy worked with a committee of women from diverse backgrounds and legal practice areas. The curriculum was developed with input from this committee over two years.

“This group was intentionally brought together to ensure that the program’s design would accelerate equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the legal profession and empower women in law to lead from every year and at every stage in their career,” write Nikolaou and Delanoy.

The leadership program runs over three weekends. “This makes it more convenient and accessible for women who work or study full-time,” Nikolaou says in an interview. The program provides women with the tools and opportunities to advance as leaders, to collaborate and to build strong network connections.

“The curriculum ranges from leadership styles, emotional intelligence strategies and communication approaches,” says Delanoy. “There’s a lot around equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and how to cultivate that.

"The curriculum and panel discussions support each other; the participants contextualize and make meaning out of their own context, as well as what's happening and what's shared. It really is vibrant and intended to be a transformational process for them.”

Nikolaou and Delanoy saw this transformational process first-hand during the program’s first offering this past spring. 

“When we say this program is transformational, a lot of people talk about that as a construct,” says Delanoy. “The truth of it is, we watched this transformation happen during the first offering. Participants had the opportunity to grapple with the things that they were dealing with personally and professionally.

Nadia Delanoy

Nadia Delanoy

Nadia Delanoy

“Women across the legal field have experienced and pushed the boundaries in their own timeframes and have been subsequently quite successful. It not only created the competency set of leadership for women in law, but it created that esprit de corps, that spirit for women in law, and I think that that's what made it more transformational.” 

Transformational impact

The participants in the program’s first session came from diverse intersectional identities and diverse personal and professional experiences. 

“The program draws upon the participants’ lived experiences to better understand the realities women face in law and to seek solutions to support change both personally and institutionally,” Nikolaou and Delanoy write in the National Magazine article.

“Participants reflect upon and evaluate their leadership goals and challenges and are supported through various tools and pedagogical approaches, including discussions with senior women leaders and collaborative learning methods, to continually reflect and advance their thinking.” 

Both UCalgary instructors believe it is essential to foster a safe and welcoming space for women to tell their stories, especially considering their different experiences.

“Women face barriers, but not all women face the same barriers; there is that intersectionality piece. We have to be careful that we don't just present one perspective,” says Nikolaou.

The panel discussions, which act as an anchor for the program, encourage women of diverse personal and professional backgrounds, cultures, age, etc. to voice their stories and to “bring forward the ability for them to say, ‘This is possible, we can overcome, we can stand on our feet,’” says Delanoy.

Learn more about the WILL program.