Carol Liao

Photo credit: Chung Chow, courtesy of Business in Vancouver.

Dr. Carol Liao has played a pivotal role in Allard Law since she joined in 2017. In addition to her role as Faculty member and instructor, she is the UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar of the Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics, Director of the Centre for Business Law, and Principal Co-investigator of the Canada Climate Law Initiative.

In recognition of her service to the UBC community and beyond, Dr. Liao has been honoured with the 2021 Influential Women in Business Award from Business in Vancouver, and is a nominee for a 2021 YWCA Women of Distinction Award. Both awards recognize leaders in the BC community who are making an impact in their respective fields.

Professor Liao recently took the time to chat with us about her work and achievements.

The Business in Vancouver 2021 Influential Women in Business Award is an outstanding achievement. What does it mean to you?

Thank you! I think it is a bit unusual for an academic to receive this award, so it is a sincere honour to be recognized for the impact my work has had on industry. This next decade is a crucial one. Climate change is a foreseeable catastrophe with greatly disproportionate impacts that cut across gender and racial lines.

I appreciate the opportunities I have been given to foster change. It also isn’t lost on me that racialized and Indigenous women are notably underrepresented in leadership roles in the business sector and academia, so I do derive meaning from having broken through some barriers to get to this point.

You’re also nominated for a 2021 YWCA Women of Distinction Award (in the Education, Training, and Development category). This nomination not only spotlights your leadership, it helps to elevate a cause that is important to you: advancing gender equality. Can you describe your vision for greater gender equality in our world?

Power is dispersed unequally in this world, and who holds power in society often dictates how communities thrive and how our most vulnerable in society are protected. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated inequalities and is threatening to undo the limited advancements women have made over the years. Women deserve equal access to healthcare, employment, economic resources, in a world free from gender-based violence and discrimination. A world like that requires women to also have seats – and voices – at leadership tables and in decision-making processes. Gender equality is foundational to attaining a sustainable future.

Note: YWCA Women of Distinction Award nominees are eligible to receive the YWCA Connecting the Community Award, which helps raise awareness and funds for the nominee’s cause. The winner is chosen by public vote from now until April 20, 2021. Click here to vote for Dr. Liao!

Seeing more women of colour in law and business is still something we are working towards. What do you think the biggest challenges are in advancing representation and diversity in these fields?

For several years now I have delivered workshops on equity, diversity, and inclusion in leadership to organizations with my industry partner Shona McGlashan (Vice President of Governance at Vancity), so I have had a lot of time to think about this question, and I have an honest and uncomfortable answer. The biggest challenge in advancing representation and diversity in law and business is the subtle yet devastatingly harmful racism and sexism that occurs behind closed doors at the local level.

Many organizations and firms have equity and diversity policies, but the number of women of colour in leadership positions is infinitesimal, and that has not changed over the years. Discrimination starts at recruiting methods and continues in how we support and promote women of colour within our organizations. People need to be more self-aware of biases that have been cultivated from our very gendered and colonial history, and not be complicit when this type of behaviour is exhibited in others. #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have helped to bring a lot of difficult conversations about misogyny and systemic racism to the forefront, and there remains a lot of work to do.

A great leader is ____.

A great leader is aware of their obligations to the planet and acts upon it. The intersection between law, ethical business, and sustainability is growing more and more significant each day, and boards are putting their companies at risk if they do not consider the environmental and social impacts of their actions. The Canada Climate Law Initiative (where I am Principal co-Investigator with Professors Janis Sarra and Cynthia Williams) works very hard to communicate this important message to corporate boards. To me, one simply cannot be a great leader unless they fully understand their responsibilities to the environment, surrounding communities, and future generations, and leads by example.

What has been your favourite experience so far as an Allard Law professor?

My favourite experiences have always been with my students. Students are a constant source of inspiration for me – they break my heart with their generosity, caring, and determination. Our students have grown up in an era far different from previous generations. Environmental and social crises have demarcated most of their adult lives, along with the recurring message that time is of the essence. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is permanently imprinted in their formative years. I believe amplifying the voices of young lawyers is crucial in our efforts towards a net-zero carbon economy. I have so much hope in this next generation of lawyers.

Do you find that your perspective on the law has changed as you went from private practice to academia?

Interesting question! I think my perspective on the law is constantly changing. My years as a Mergers & Acquisitions lawyer in New York allowed me to develop unique perspectives on regulatory and governance issues that accompany complex transactions, and I carry these experiences with me as a scholar. Academia is my second career, and I think I would find it difficult to be a business law professor without having ever practised law. Being a scholar is a privilege. We have academic freedom and job security – personally, I feel that my academic position includes obligations to engage in public discourse on law and policy, including the active dissemination of research.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest career accomplishment has been in finding my voice and using it.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently juggling several projects. I have three edited books on sustainable business in varying stages of publication. I just submitted the final manuscript of Corporate Law and Sustainability from the Next Generation of Lawyers to our publisher. I am also the co-editor of Innovating Business for Sustainability, a volume of international essays offering sustainability-science informed regulatory approaches to bring about meaningful change from the business sector. The third book, Contemporary Theories in Corporate Law and Corporate Governance, aims to be a ground-breaking international collection heralding a new era of sustainable corporate governance and providing new theoretical frameworks for scholars and industry. My co-editor Beate Sjåfjell and I will be hosting a virtual conference for the book in June.

I am also in the second year of a five-year SSHRC Insight Grant project on the evolution of Canadian corporate governance and working on a monograph. I have additional papers in the works on topics such as mining law, women in the law, etc.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

My favourite thing in the world is spending time with my family. My husband and I have three daughters aged 12, 9, and 6 and lately we have been doing a lot of snowshoeing. We also love baking together (we are really into making French macarons right now), playing with our guinea pigs Nutmeg and Ginger, and watching family movies with popcorn.

What advice would you give your law student self?

There are privileges and responsibilities that come with being a lawyer, and do not undervalue the importance of your contributions to the law school. Students have power in shaping the future of legal education, the legal profession, and the law. Enjoy your time and know your worth.