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A female mentoring program for law students

Andrea Kruger is launching a mentoring program that pairs female leaders with aspiring women.

Photo of Andrea Kruger, a graduate of the Université de Montréal’s law program

Andrea Kruger, a graduate of the Université de Montréal’s law program, is launching this spring a mentoring program that pairs female leaders with aspiring women to help them overcome some of the specific challenges they face in the legal profession. CBA National caught up with her to talk about what makes a women’s mentoring program different.

CBA National: Where did you get the idea to launch this program?

Andrea Kruger: When I was going through law school I had always had a lot of questions about the profession, about where women stand in the profession and how we can address the workplace difficulties that women experience at one point or another in their lives. And I felt like I never really had someone of experience to ask these questions. And so, I wanted to help people who were in my position by creating a platform to ask these questions in a comfortable setting, in a safe space where people can speak openly, in a non-judgmental partnership. And from what I’ve seen in my research, while there is progress, there is definitely a lack of university support in terms of female mentorship.

N: Why a mentoring program geared specifically towards women?

AK: There is a large chasm between the number of women starting out on a professional track and the number of women who decide to remain in the profession or to advance to senior positions. It’s what we call the leaky pipeline. One way to address this is to “leak-proof” the pipe through mentoring. It provides women the opportunity to build social capital, to broaden their perspective, to point out and resist discriminatory behaviours and to also navigate through organizational politics more strategically and muster to speak up when it matters the most. The ability to really discuss sex-specific issues with someone who’s experienced it themselves, I think, provides more potent advice. And our woman-to-woman program, the way we designed it, is very conducive to genuine, open and non-judgmental dialogue about more sensitive issues that might be difficult or uncomfortable to express in another context or in more formal settings.

N: So how do you go about match people together?

AK: We’re now launching a campaign out of my alma mater, Université de Montréal, to recruit students who are interested in participating. They go to our website, fill out forms explaining why they’re interested and what kind of person they would like to be paired up with. Then we match them up with a mentor who we think would correspond well to their profile. After that it’s up to them to really set out their first meeting and then to decide on their own terms how they would like to connect.

N: What about the mentors? What are their backgrounds?

AK: So, we’ve heard from a lot of students that one of the main problems with mentoring is that there’s a lack of diversity. So we wanted to make sure that our mentors belong to different cultural groups. Even if the students aren’t mentored with someone of exactly the same cultural background, a lot of issues can be common among different groups. There also has to be diversity in terms of where the mentors work. Some students might not be interested in pursuing a career in private practice, or they may be curious about alternative legal careers out there. So we’ve been trying to reach out to as many people as possible from diverse professional backgrounds. We've reached out to private practice lawyers, corporate counsels, to government employees, activists, and women who’ve used their legal expertise to pursue other legal related careers. The objective is to create connections between seasoned legal professionals and future legal professionals to guide these women throughout out their careers, particularly at pivotal decision points — at university, for example, when we’re starting to shape our view of the legal landscape and where we would like to see ourselves standing in it.

N: Did you yourself ever find a mentor?

AK: Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. I had the opportunity to have two mentors, one male and one female. The experience was quite different. And this is not to bash onto my male mentor who offered tremendous support and guidance. I was able to ask certain questions to my female mentor that I wasn't able to ask my male mentor. Not because he didn't want to answer, but simply because he didn't know or didn't have the experience. So although he could be very compassionate, and as understanding, the advice really couldn’t come from personal experience. And that truly makes a considerable difference.