Recognized as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Dec 8, 2015)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2016):
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon occupies 8 floors of Commerce Court West -- the building features an outdoor courtyard, access to the PATH system, two private nap rooms, a quiet room that can be used for meditation or religious observance, a full-service legal library, and a cafe/lounge and games room, which includes a television, video games, a pinball machine and table hockey
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon encourages employees to adopt healthy balanced lifestyles through an extensive health and wellness program that includes monthly newsletters (with health tips and event announcements), lunch and learn seminars and nearby exercise classes that feature "Annual Fitness Challenges" -- additionally, the firm offers a $600 subsidy to help cover the cost of gym memberships
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon provided over 8,000 hours of pro bono legal services to a number of organizations in the past year, including Flip Your Wig for Justice, The "160 Girls" Project and War Child Canada -- the firm also established a national committee to review and proactively seek out pro bono opportunities
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2016)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 23, 2016)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2016):
- For nearly ten years, Blake, Cassels & Graydon has provided support, mentorship, networking opportunities and personal and professional resources for its female employees through the "Women@Blakes" network -- the network maintains an internal website, publishes quarterly newsletters and organizes internal and external seminars and events, such as roundtable discussions on achieving work-life balance
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon participates in "Dare to Dream", a program organized by Canadian Lawyers Abroad to encourage Canadian law firms and businesses to increase opportunities for Aboriginal youth and their families -- the firm also partnered with a client to provide a joint internship to an Aboriginal law student
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon offers the Blakes/Juriansz Inclusivity Fund to support student-led initiatives and organizations that promote recognition and respect for diversity, inclusion and accessibility -- additionally, the firm provides practical experience for high school students who face barriers to achieving academic, career and life goals through participation in the Law in Action Within Schools Summer Job Program -- the firm offers summer employment opportunities, mentoring, and helps sponsor their placement at external agencies, such as legal aid clinics
"Participating in the Preparing for Rain program as an Associate turned out to be important personally and professionally. It gave me a chance to get to know women at my level in other practice groups, who I might otherwise not have had a chance to get to know; to build relationships with women partners who became mentors and sponsors for me; and to build an internal referral network. Now I'm a mentor to associates I have known since they were students, and it's important to me to help them navigate toward partnership while balancing parenthood and other priorities. There are more of us now, and we are great support for each other." Iris F., Partner
Inclusivity is a long-standing Blakes practice
Twenty years ago, as an articling student, Brad Berg put a rainbow flag along with his male partner's picture on his desk for everyone at Blake, Cassels & Graydon (Blakes) to see. Even then, and despite being desperate to please his superiors and hoping to be hired fulltime, Berg didn't care who in one of Bay Street's top firms knew that he was gay.
After articling, Berg was hired as an associate, and he made partner at the same time as others in his firm-entry class. "Blakes had lots of opportunities not to keep me," says Berg, who now heads the Toronto office's prestigious litigation group. "Instead, from Day One, I was treated with complete respect, even from people who didn't quite understand what a gay person was doing in corporate law."
He adds: "I received good files and was always presented to clients, perhaps at some risk to Blakes. If it weren't for the firm's commitment to diversity, I wouldn't be here - and neither would a lot of other people."
At the time, Berg chose to article with Blakes not because of any gay role models at the firm. He knew nothing about that but recalls, "I was impressed with the fact that Blakes had women in senior roles as well as cultural and racial diversity."
He adds: "Diversity at Blakes is a natural corollary of the firm's bedrock of professionalism. They were doing the right thing long before people started giving out awards."
And once organizations started recognizing diversity, Blakes was publicly singled out as a leader in the field. This is the sixth year that Mediacorp Canada has named Blakes as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers.
For decades, Blakes has been committed to inclusiveness to enhance the workplace and provide the best client service. "We want to hire and retain the best people from a broad range of communities and backgrounds," says Mary Jackson, the firm's Chief People and Inclusion Officer. "Diverse teams generate more creative and innovative solutions for clients."
Blakes supports a range of initiatives aimed at ensuring all staff feel comfortable, no matter their background. There are firm-sponsored programs and support groups for women, visible minority members and LGBT professionals. The firm's senior management group as well as practice group leaders receive diversity sensitivity training.
However, diversity awareness need not always be so formal. "Oftentimes," Jackson says, "committing to inclusivity means just understanding the social norms and cultural values of others. It can be simply knowing how to properly greet a client or colleague."
To that end, the firm every month alerts all employees to significant religious and cultural events. Says Jackson: "It's an easy way to help everyone learn about what colleagues and clients may be experiencing."
Meanwhile, retaining women has long been a challenge in the legal profession, and Blakes addresses it in a number of ways, including by demonstrating that, for those who want them, advancement opportunities do exist: 25% of the executive committee is now female, more than double from five years ago.
To help women with young families, the firm provides coaching before and after maternity leaves. From a professional development perspective, Women@Blakes provides networking opportunities while its Preparing for Rain initiative helps women build business development skills and achieve higher positions.
But the firm's diversity commitment goes well beyond such programs. "The real test is not in recruitment, retention and recognition," says Berg. "That's just basic. We go beyond that."
For example, Berg cites the pro bono cases led by Blakes. They range from the successful, award-winning 160 Girls Project that compelled Kenya to enforce its own laws against rape, making international headlines, to numerous civil liberties cases that have broken new ground at the Supreme Court of Canada. Says Berg: "It's not just who we hire, but how we practise."
This article appeared in the magazine announcing this year's Canada's Best Diversity Employers winners, published February 24, 2016 in The Globe and Mail. This article was prepared with the financial support of the employer, which did not write or edit its contents.