Canada: Diversonomics Season 3 | Episode 4: To Affinity & Beyond: Managing Diversity & Inclusion In The Workplace

Last Updated: November 12 2018
Article by Roberto Aburto

When one thinks of traditional roles within a law firm or within other organizations, the role of diversity & inclusion manager is not usually top of mind — but it should be. In fact, Gowling WLG is one of the first law firms in Canada to hire a dedicated D&I manager.

In this episode of Diversonomics, our co-hosts sit down with Gowling WLG diversity and inclusion manager Lina Nadar to discuss affinity networks, her path to D&I management and her vision for the firm.

Episode tip

"One thing I would love to see with our affinity networks is to have a lot of intersectional collaboration. Sometimes what ends up happening is a lot of different groups will just go off and do their own thing and lot of them are experiencing some of the same issues or are encountering some of the same challenges." — Lina Nadar, diversity and inclusion manager, Gowling WLG


You are listening to "Diversonomics", a Gowling WLG podcast Episode 17 Season 3

Sarah: Hello listeners. Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast about diversity from Gowling WLG. I am your co-host, Sarah Willis, practicing in our Ottawa office.

Roberto: I'm your co-host, Roberto Aburto, also a lawyer in the Ottawa office. This is our podcast on diversity and inclusion in the legal market. Definitely an important topic for us and that something that, while its profile is certainly increasing at the firm, and in the industry, still has a ways to go. Fortunately, our firm has taken a huge step recently. We've hired our first ever diversity and inclusion manager. She's been here a few months already and I'm very excited to have the privilege of working with her. So we welcome to the show Lina Nadar, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Gowling WLG Canada.

Lina: Woooooooo! Thanks for the very warm welcome.

Roberto: Great. Welcome to the show and then to our firm. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Lina: Where to start. This could be a very, very long story or very short. First, and foremost, I'm an immigrant. I was born in Egypt to Egyptian - Lebanese parents. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and then I moved to Canada when I was 10. I also speak four languages. I come from a very multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-face family that is sort of disbursed all over the world. This experience of mine, relocating and all of that, is very normal for my family and also for many Middle Eastern families as well. You could say that this is sort of my initial introduction to D&I. When I first moved to Canada I settled in very easily into Canadian culture. But now as an adult, when I look back, I still struggled like many immigrant kids. You know, your sense of identity is always changing. You know, you have a new culture that you need to understand and navigate your way through. You have your old culture that, at 10 years old you don't really know much about, but you're kind of hearing about it as you grow up. Just meeting many different people from many different cultures and backgrounds. Right? This, I think, really made me who I am today. I also went to French school here so I have a very good understanding of Francophone culture in Canada. I mention all of this because as I mature and get older I look back on my high school experience and I see that I learned a lot from linguistic differences, cultural linguistics, gender identities, sexual orientations and how people just sort of cover, or flaunt, certain parts of their persona, and then how these identities and personalities change with time. For me, understanding that people identify with their differences, I'm using air quotes here, in their way is imperative when you work in the diversity and inclusion field.

Roberto: Right. That's a lot of personal experiences. But I guess it's a little bit different in that you are, I mean for a while you've been working full-time in the space of a career focused on diversity and inclusion, what led you on that path?

Lina: I got into diversity and inclusion, I would say, because I'm very lucky to work in a field that impassions me. There's also perseverance and being, I would say, at the right place at the right time. I also have a wonderful mentor who's helped me and guided me along my career. I got into D&I, I worked abroad for a couple of years up to university and I was contemplating either doing an IPA or a law school but then I met a professor who introduced herself as ... expert. I was just very impressed with that so I'm not sure if everybody knows what ... studies are but basically you look at the experiences of displaced people, be they migrants or refugees, and how they deal with their changing identities, their settlement and ... experiences. For me, this was extremely intriguing because I found that I immediately understood the subject. I almost didn't really have to read too much about it. I kind of got it. I decided to go into academia. I enrolled in a Masters here and then in Europe, where I studied migration and integration policies, then I decided to come back because I felt I could do my best work here and make a difference in my own country. In Canada. Since coming back about 10 years ago I got to work in international education, as well as diversity and inclusion, in both small, medium and large firms. Here I am today, at Gowling WLG.

Sarah: Fantastic. We're very, very happy to have you. I know you just started a few months ago at Gowling, so how is it going so far?

Lina: It's going great. I feel the firm has come a long way since starting our D&I journey back in 2014 and the support from everyone at all levels of the firm, that I've been meeting, has been outstanding. It's been going really, really well.

Sarah: I understand previous to joining Gowlings you were at an accounting firm?

Lina: Yup. I was.

Sarah: Do you see any differences between being at a law firm versus an accounting firm in terms of culture or approach to diversity?

Lina: I looked at a lot of differences and similarities. I guess the differences would be that the large accounting firm, and now it's even banks, started looking into diversity and inclusion formally. Maybe 15 to 20 years ago, if not even a little bit more, and to see certainly for a bit longer but the similarities, a lot of the same issues persist. Everyone is sort of going through the exact same challenges at the same time. I see that very much as a positive thing. It's not as if here you were fully far behind or anything. We're all in the same place.

Sarah: Right. I guess it's typical of law firms to be a little slower moving in terms of change. I find even often technology changes. Law firms still use faxes.

Lina: Yeah.

Sarah: So it's not that surprising.

Lina: But it's endearing.

Sarah: Exactly. In terms of what you've been working since you started what are the first steps that you've been taking since you joined Gowling?

Lina: I've been doing a lot of learning. I've been talking to a lot of people. Everybody from ... counsel. Some people are executives. Leadership teams and our recruiting practice. I've been really spending a lot of my time learning about the firm and what we do. I'm also doing a bit of an audit of our programs, some of our policies and procedures and just looking where we can embed some D&I practices in the future. I'm also looking at restructuring the D&I council. To make it a more strategic body, a more advisory body and to start employee, or affinity, networks.

Sarah: Fantastic.

Roberto: Great. In terms of affinity networks why do you think that's an important step?

Lina: I think it's (a) the best practice. When we don't have a space for different people to sort of gather and share their experience. It's a great opportunity for people to support each other and to hear about their different experiences. A lot of mentorship and sponsorship also just organically and naturally happens to some of these affinity groups. One think I would love to see with our affinity networks is to have a lot of intersectional collaboration, if you will. Sometimes what ends up happening is a lot of different groups will just go off and do their own thing and lot of them are experiencing some of the same issues or are encountering some of the same challenges. I'm really, really hoping that they will be very collaborative.

Sarah: For those of our listeners who aren't aware can you explain what an affinity network is?

Lina: An affinity network is a network for a group of people who identify as having some of the same characteristics. So, let's say you can have an affinity network for gender. You can have an affinity network for LGBTQ+. You can have one for indigenous people and racialized peoples and persons with disabilities. They function very differently in different firms. In some they work very much like a social network. In others they will work more as, say they're very client based, very business development based. They could also be very active within the firm as looking at policies and procedures and they can make recommendations on how to make them more inclusive.

Roberto: I was really excited when you brought up the idea of it because I know that, especially in the first few years of our journey, we had the conversation about it on numerous occasions and I think there's a lot of opportunities there. It's certainly an exciting prospect, for sure.

Lina: That's why I completely agree.

Roberto: What are some of the things that we as a firm are doing well?

Lina: I think the firm is doing many things, related to D&I, very, very well. In the 4 years since we started our D&I journey we've accomplished a lot. We have an active and engaged council. The firm is on board so there's senior leadership which is amazing. We have unconscious bias training that is rolled out throughout the firm. As well as mental health first aid training which is fantastic. Considering this was all organized, I'd say in like 1 to 3 years, in such a short time I think this is such an amazing accomplishment. From speaking with so many people I'm also seeing that many of our people are really engaged in all of our D&I activities. Everything from lunch and learns to our Day of Pink, National Indigenous People's Day, International Woman's Day. The feedback I've been getting has been wonderful. This is really a testament to everything that we've done so well in the past 4 years.

Roberto: What are some of the challenges you'd like to address?

Lina: I've thought about this and, to be honest I wouldn't call this so much as a challenge as much of an opportunity, but I'd really like to start embedding diversity and inclusion, let's call them nudges, in some of our policies and procedures. For example, in our recruitment and retention and advancement processies, I'd love to build out our unconscious bias training and include more inclusive leadership training in there. For example, how to be an inclusive lawyer. How to work with diverse teams and clients, etcetera.

Roberto: Yeah, it's interesting. In our unconscious bias program we really talk a lot about nudges and people and come up in the course with different nudges and it's a lot of opportunities. I know we talked about meetings and having, perhaps, the most junior person at the meeting going first so that they're heard. That's one thing where it was talked about it in the course and now I know my group does that fairly regularly in our municipal groups. But in terms of finalizing that, making it more systemic, making it more broadly thought about it, I think we have a lot of opportunities there.

Lina: Yeah. I feel that's a great example of just how far the firm has gone. The fact that your team does that. Again, in my line of work, a lot of the changes, to see the fruits of our labour, or to see any change actually take effect it's quite a while, and they don't happen overnight. I do know we will get there.

Sarah: What are some opportunities that you see for Gowling WLG moving forward into the future?

Lina: I'd love to see us a D&I leader in the legal industry, to start, and globally one day. I have very big dreams. Based on my time here the will to be a leader is firmly there and if we can be pioneers in the legal industry in Canada this will be a great achievement.

Sarah: I think that's a great goal and I think it's one that I would personally love to see our firm move towards. I know there's a lot of interest and support among the individuals at the firm around that. What can we, in terms of the rest of the firm, due to support you in that goal?

Lina: I'd love for everyone to come and speak with me. This is for both lawyers and our business support services staff. Much of what D&I professionals do is embed D&I in a lot of existing processes and policies, and we can't do that without hearing from our people, and having open and frank conversations about what we're seeing, what we're observing, what we would like to improve on and to think of innovative ways to create an inclusive workplace culture.

Sarah: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here with us today, Lina. We're looking very forward to working with you in the future. Thank you so much for being here today with us, Lina. We're definitely looking forward to working with you in the future and I can't wait to see the wonderful things you do in D&I in the legal community.

Lina: Thanks so much for having me. So far it's been a great experience and a great first couple of months and I'm really looking forward to my time working with everyone.

Sarah: Great. For our listeners, thanks so much for tuning in and we're looking for your interaction. If you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for topics or guests please look us up at and get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you. Also make sure to check out the show notes for this episode Last, but not least, make sure to subscribe on iTunes so you don't ever miss an episode. And while you're at it leave us a review to let us know what you think.

Roberto: You can also follow me on Twitter at @robaburto. Lina, do you have anything to plug?

Lina: You can also follow me on Twitter at @linanadar.

Sarah: Great. Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG and produced by Amanda Lomas and Rachael Reid and edited by Josh Bowman.

This podcast will count for up to 15 minutes of Equality & Inclusion Professionalism (EDI) credit toward the mandatory CPD requirements of the Law Society of Ontario (subject to the overall limit of 6 hours per year for viewing archived video programs).

This organization has been approved as an Accredited Provider of Professionalism Content by the Law Society of Ontario.

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