How I did it: Lisa Vogt

Lawyer breaks through glass ceiling to become regional managing partner at McCarthy Tétrault while raising five children

Business in Vancouver's "How I Did It" feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week's issue, Lisa Vogt explains how she raised five children while climbing the career ladder to become the regional managing partner for law firm McCarthy Tétrault's B.C. practice.

"I never thought I was going to be a lawyer growing up. It was probably farthest from my mind at the end of the '70s. Going to law school was kind of selling out, and it was the last thing that people were supposed to do.

"I had gone through and done a master's in English, and I really enjoyed teaching. But it was at the time when there weren't a lot of teaching positions.

"So I looked at law, and I was really lucky – it just clicked.

"We assumed when we graduated from law school that advancement, becoming a partner, would be gender neutral. A lot of the people I graduated with were surprised when in fact it wasn't.

"It wasn't overt discrimination. It was systemic because for so many years the profession, being so conservative, had been largely men. Like any profession, you work with people you're comfortable with, so you hire people you're comfortable with. It's this unconscious bias of who they hired as lawyers and then who they gave the best work assignments and advancements to.

"There are far more women practising law now, and that's good because they're visible now. Diversity and some of the obstacles that women face are now being talked about.

"One of the things I teach my daughters and younger women lawyers that I work with is that if you want a career and a family, the really important thing is to figure out the career piece first. Find something you love doing because it's going to be hard work.

"My husband and I decided very early on in our relationship that we both wanted a large family. Because of this I knew I was going to have short maternity leaves, and so I took three to four months off each time. You can't take a year off and do it five times and build any kind of career.

"There are a million different ways people do this, but for us, we had a live-in nanny. And after our third child, we had two.

"When people hear that, they think 'Oh yeah, day shift, evening shift.' But it wasn't like that at all. It was two nannies, day shift, [both] working 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Because you can't pay somebody enough to look after five small children, clean a house, make dinner and do the laundry.

"To be clear, it cost us big bucks. My income was pretty much going to pay the nannies. But it paid off because we still have one of them now after 24 years.

"I believe that women can have it all – they just can't do it all.

"Practising law is an extreme work environment. It's hard to juggle a successful career and having a family. But I would really like to convince the next generation of women lawyers to stay the course and find an employer who believes diversity is a strategic priority."

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