“Put yourself out there. Don’t wait for people to help you. Rather seek those potential mentors out. Be an active mentee in return—think of how you can be helpful to others and not only of how they can be helpful to you.”
Radha Curpen, Vice-Chair, Vancouver Managing Partner and National Leader ESG Strategy & Solutions, Bennett Jones LLP
Radha was born in Mauritius and moved to Winnipeg with her family when she was 16. Her parents raised her and her sister to be independent, value education, seize opportunities and adapt to new environments. They instilled in them the importance of building relationships, being grateful and lifelong learning.
She was raised to speak up and be confident, and those skills served her well early in her career and still do today. She was also well supported by others inside and outside the legal profession.
“My parents are my biggest inspirations. My father planted the seed to pursue law in my head when I was six years old,” she reminisces. “He and my mother did everything they could to ensure my sister, and I could pursue an education while being part of a close family, including immigrating to Canada. My father advised us to remember our values and always be guided by them.”
Radha was also inspired by the former Supreme Court of Canada justice, Michel Bastarache, who instilled in her the value of pursuing a typical law education in French.
“As a young lawyer, someone very well-meaning told me to try to be ‘one of the boys’ to succeed and get the best opportunities in my career and life,” she said. “I didn’t accept that advice, and instead, I distinguished myself by my values and embraced who I am. I do not believe that women need to be part of a ‘club’ to succeed.”
Radha advises women who are seeking a mentoring relationship must do one thing. “Put yourself out there. Don’t wait for people to help you. Instead, seek those potential mentors out. Be an active mentee in return—think of how you can be helpful to others and not only of how they can be helpful to you.”
She reiterated that it is okay to ask someone to be your mentor. Over time, you will develop a bond. Mentorship, at its core, is about great relationships. “I found myself well-supported by others in the profession. In fact, all of my most outstanding mentors did not look like me, and they saw my potential and encouraged it.”
Radha also emphasized that it is best to embrace change in personal and professional life and even seek it out. “When I was a young lawyer in my early 20s, I decided to convince my firm in Winnipeg that I should start a new practice in environmental law where there was no business yet. That was the best decision of my career.”
Having lived and worked in New York and Toronto, she added new dimensions to her practice and moved to Vancouver in 2016. She was the National leader of the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) platform at Bennett Jones. She practiced in areas that are related to ESG for years.
“While the world for women has progressed and will continue to do so, much work still needs to be done to create a level playing field,” she said matter-of-factly. “People in leadership and management need to create an environment where everyone can succeed and be empowered.”
Being a woman of color and an immigrant to Canada allows Radha to speak from her living experience. “I find it vital to create common goals and build a team around them. A big part of this is understanding that people build organizations, do extraordinary things in the right circumstances and conditions and help achieve a leader’s vision. Thus, always remember who you are. Embrace it and make the best of what you have. Although there will be barriers, you can overcome them by focusing on your values.”
She advises focusing on continued learning. Become an expert in your field and build your credibility within your organization and outside of it.
“Leaders have to lead by example to create a culture of inclusion. You have to foster an environment where people feel comfortable embracing their differences and celebrating what they bring to the table.”
Remembering Mothers’ Day, Radha couldn’t help but reflect on her mother. “My mother taught me early on about giving with no expectation of receiving and to feel thankful every day. I took these lessons to heart, and they helped define who I am.”
“Always remember who you are. Embrace it and make the best of what you have. Although there will be barriers, you can overcome them by focusing on your values.”