04/07/2014 01:01 EDT | Updated 06/07/2014 05:59 EDT

More work needed to achieve gender equality: Supreme Court chief justice

CALGARY - The head of the Supreme Court of Canada says progress is being made in attracting more women to the legal profession.

But Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin told a legal conference in Calgary on Monday that more work is necessary before equality is achieved.

McLachlin said that in the past there were always assumptions about the role of women in society and, to some extent, those assumptions are still in effect.

"Somehow we have a feeling that we could be doing better. So my challenge to you is to ask how can we be doing better and is the fact we're not doing better related to some of these unstated assumptions?" she said in a speech to the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association's national conference.

Even though more women are entering the law profession or moving into federal politics, Canada is a long way from total gender equality, McLachlin said.

"I would like to say we can do better," she said. "We still only have 25 per cent of our members of Parliament as women and, in Ontario, 37 per cent of the practising bar are women despite the fact that women are graduating from law schools in slightly greater numbers than men."

She suggested there are two main reasons why society would benefit from complete gender equality.

"First of all, because it is fair and is perceived to be fair and, second, because I actually believe it will help society and these institutions function a little better."

McLachlin, 70, is the longest-serving chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Her judicial career began with an appointment to Vancouver County Court in 1981. She then moved to the B.C. Supreme Court, the B.C. Court of Appeal and, in 1989, to the Supreme Court of Canada where she became chief justice in 2000.

She noted that things have improved from when she was growing up on a ranch near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

She said she was steered away from certain professions because of Grade 8 aptitude tests.

While she scored "off the chart" when it came to reading and English, the tests showed she lacked alertness.

"My teacher said you have the lowest score for alertness that we have ever seen and then she said, shaking her head sadly, 'I don't know what to tell you but I know what you must not do ... You must never become a waitress or a telephone operator'

"So that's why I'm in the law."

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