Women taking a greater role in handling restructuring cases amid COVID-19 crisis – The Globe and Mail

Tracy Sandler, Sandra Abitan, Ad. E.

Dec 31, 2020

In a Q&A video chat with The Globe and Mail, Osler partners Tracy Sandler, Sandra Abitan and Kathryn Esaw discuss how more women than ever are leading high-profile insolvency and restructuring files. In their discussion with author Christine Dobby, they reflect on gender representation in their practice, and what it has been like advising clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tracy, a partner in Osler’s leading Insolvency and Restructuring Group, says the role of women in the restructuring bar has changed since the financial crisis of 2007-08.

“In 2007-08, the people leading the main mandates were generally men. Because the financial crisis was global, the large files were complicated, cross-border matters – what comes to mind is General Motors,” Tracy tells The Globe and Mail. “And there were women involved in the cases, but what we see now is a lot more women actually leading the files. I think that has been a gradual change…”

Sandra, who is Managing Partner of Osler’s Montréal office, agrees.

“It’s incredibly time-intensive and crisis-management work. When a file hits, you’re on 24 hours a day, working with the client as they go through one of the hardest periods in their history,” Sandra says. “They need support and guidance, so you need to be sitting around the boardroom table, providing that strategic advice. For decades, it was only the guys that were there. Slowly but surely, that’s changing.

“It’s so important to have a sponsor. Not a mentor, but somebody who’s going to be your champion. Tracy and I were both very lucky to have exceptional champions – who were both male – who wanted to see us not survive, but thrive.”

Tracy also says that it’s important for women to be able to see other women in leadership positions.

“We didn’t have a lot of women to model how to successfully manage a practice, juggle competing obligations. I think what’s evolved since 2007-08 is there are more of us who demonstrate that we have the ability to succeed in it and there is a path to partnership, or whatever your definition of success is.

“I find it quite interesting that a lot of the women who lead large, cross-border mandates are also involved in the management of their big firms. Sandra runs our Montréal office, I’ve just come off two terms on our executive committee…”

Kathryn, a partner in Osler’s Insolvency and Restructuring Group, concurs.

“I was called to the bar in 2010, so I missed the last financial disaster. But I clerked at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2009, so I saw Nortel and Canwest and some really cool cases,” she says. “I did see women, and usually it was women, sitting as second chair as opposed to being the most senior person. But just seeing that was helpful – to see someone who looks like you and has done it.”

On the subject of what the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic were like for her practice, Tracy says “It was like drinking from a firehose,” as many sectors were hit hard by the pandemic. She adds that “…We also spent a lot of time helping healthy clients understand the impact this was going to have on their business.”

As for what’s next for the insolvency and restructuring landscape, Kathryn says it will depend on a number of factors.

“A lot of businesses that have survived this long are waiting to see how they do over the holidays. Depending on that performance, they’ll decide what 2021 looks like for them,” she tells The Globe and Mail.

If you subscribe to The Globe and Mail online, read author Christine Dobby’s article, “Women taking a greater role in handling restructuring cases amid COVID-19 crisis” on December 31, 2020.