2019 Catalyst Canada Honours Business Leader Champion
Senior Adviser, Strategic Initiatives & Client Development Coaching, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP
Among Alison’s many achievements, she became one of the first female Chief Client Relations and Marketing Officers for a law firm in Canada and held that role for more than 21 years. She embodies many of the characteristics typically associated with change-makers: charisma, passion, dedication, and self-discipline. Ultimately, Alison’s greatest strength may be her live-action empathy, as each of the initiatives she has undertaken and driven forward matters profoundly to the people it is designed to support.
How She Made Change
Alison has been both insightful and nimble in her creation and execution of pipeline programs and initiatives designed to ensure the retention and promotion of women lawyers both within Blakes and at client companies and firms.
In September 2013, Alison was part of a core team who launched an internal development program at Blakes, Preparing for Rain, designed to provide networking and practical business development training and mentorship to women lawyers. She played a leadership role in both the creation and execution of the program, she taught workshops and provided ongoing mentorship to women associates.
Alison is perceptive of next-step needs of women lawyers and strategically designs advancement programs in an incremental manner. For example, graduates of the Preparing for Rain program continue to participate in ongoing leadership development programs to further enhance their business acumen. Several graduates have become partners at Blakes, while other senior women associates have significantly developed their practices. This program has contributed to women lawyers accounting for 40% of new income partners and general partners in the last five years.
Alison has also encouraged women attorneys outside of Blakes by developing programs for women serving as in-house corporate counsel. In 2014, she co-lead the creation of Stepping Up: Preparing to Be a GC—the first program of its kind in Canada to focus on leadership development for the next generation of women general counsels—and since 2017, she has led the continued development and expansion of the program. Initially operated in partnership with Deloitte and now with Women General Counsel Canada, Stepping Up has served 143 women in Toronto, Calgary, and, most recently, Montreal. To date, its eight development workshops have focused on leadership-skills training, financial acumen, and mentorship. More than 70 general counsels, a quarter of them male, have supported the program as faculty. Of the women across the country who have participated in the program, 41% have advanced to more senior positions within their own organizations or new companies and 12% have advanced to the role of general counsel.
Alison’s forward-thinking program development can also be seen in Women GCs on Boards, a program created in 2017 to support women general counsels who aspire to become board members. The workshops help women leverage their business and strategy skills by developing their value proposition in support of their board aspirations. In 2018, Alison spearheaded a new supplementary study of in-house leaders in Canadian public companies, examining the board pipeline of women general counsels and revealing the need to continue developing a strategic network of female general counsels and chief legal officers (CLOs). Since its launch, more than 250 senior in-house women lawyers have participated in Women GCs on Boards workshops and more than 50 corporate directors have served as faculty and facilitators. As of November 2018, the number of general counsels in Canada holding board positions has increased from 58 to 74, with women general counsels occupying 59% of these positions.
To build on Women GCs on Boards, Alison launched Stepping Beyond: Future Opportunities, in 2018 geared toward women general counsels who want to position themselves for opportunities beyond their role as general counsel. More than 100 women general counsels and senior in-house leaders have participated in the program and benefitted from the insights of prominent women business leaders in the field.
In addition to her ability to design and execute effective pipeline programs, Alison is a trusted mentor, sponsor, and coach to both women and men at Blakes and within the broader legal community. She played a key role in developing the Women@Blakes network in 2007 which continues to be a strong affinity group at the firm. Alison is a member of the Steering Committee for the 30% Club Canada and she has helped Blakes to achieve its commitment with the organization: in 2019, 45% of Blakes’ Executive Committee members were women (Partners and Senior Advisers/Administrative Professionals). Notably, Alison engages male leaders—as advocates, sponsors, and mentors—in every external program she has initiated. She has prompted several influential male colleagues to increase their engagement with the advancement of diverse talent within Blakes.
Inclusive Leadership: Empowerment, Accountability, Courage, and Humility
Alison demonstrates empowerment through her efforts to build a pipeline of women lawyers who possess the tools they need to be successful. Alison supports and advocates for the women she works with, and they, in turn, become inspirational leaders who support and mentor the men and women they work with. This virtuous circle begins with her unselfish and unflagging determination to create a corporate culture that embraces the value of each person’s contribution.
Alison has shown courage by using both her senior executive role and her position on Blakes’ Executive Committee as a platform to continually challenge the status quo, positively influence the firm’s practices regarding the advancement of women, instigate real change, and gain widespread buy-in for the benefit of women lawyers.
Alison has demonstrated humility throughout her career by always listening, learning, and respecting diverse points of view.
About Alison Jeffrey
Alison provides senior advisory counsel to Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP on strategic initiatives, served as an advisory member on the firm’s Executive Committee, and was Chief Client Relations Officer for 21 years. She was instrumental in increasing Blakes’ focus on client feedback and insuring that client teams, service delivery, training, and operations all respond to and benefit from intelligence gained through that process. Alison brings a big-picture, client-centric perspective to her advisory role.
Alison is also a certified executive coach with the Hudson Institute of Coaching. In recent years, she has focused on providing support and training that enables women lawyers to optimize their business development potential and enhance their skills. Her coaching activities have provided a natural platform for her to pursue her passion for helping women in the fields of law and business succeed and advance into leadership positions aligned with both their career goals and the needs of their organizations.