WiC: Making your own luck

Catherine Workman, partner and board member, Pinsent Masons on how gender has not held back her career

I’ve spent the last 25 years of my legal career navigating legal solutions to facilitate the building and operation of large pieces of infrastructure. From the building of hospitals, schools, airports, roads and ports across the globe, I have been privileged enough to work on several continents including Europe, Middle East and Africa.

During this time, I have worked across the spectrum of stakeholders, from governments and sponsors to contractors, operators and lenders. I love my job and I feel I have one of the most interesting jobs as a lawyer, as I can work with many different nationalities and stakeholders, all with the common aim of delivering nationally significant infrastructure for a country.

To be part of a project which is essential in delivering benefits to the people of a country, either by generating revenue from tourism, updating and modernising hospital services, or providing better educational establishments, gives me a great sense of pride. When I see one of my projects completed and operational, it really is a very rewarding feeling.

I remember when I first flew into Larnaka Airport in Cyprus after it had been completed and thought, “I helped to make this possible” – I had led the team advising the Cyprus government on the negotiation of the design, build, finance and operate contract for two new airport terminals at Larnaka and Pafos airports. We contributed to the economy of Cyprus from revenues generated from the new terminals and the local workforce who worked on the construction and operation of the airports.

It is always good to take time and reflect on our journey. When I take stock of my career so far, particularly on the issue of female success, I have to ask myself some questions. Has my success been because of, or despite of, the fact I am a woman? Has that fact been at all relevant or has it been irrelevant; or have I been lucky? If I am honest, I think it is a combination of several factors.

Initially I was aware when starting out as a trainee solicitor 27 years ago that I was entering a fairly male-dominated industry. This feeling was compounded when I started working on construction projects, but I have never been made to feel that my opinion did not matter because I was a woman. Having a female champion in the early days assisted with my confidence, and this assistance came both from within the profession and externally. On my first PPP project, the chief executive of Dartford & Gravesham Hospital was a woman, Anne Marie Dean, and she was a great support. I try to make sure that I am there to champion others whenever I have the opportunity to do so.

I have also found that people do respect a well-reasoned view or opinion, no matter who it comes from. People respect ability and capability and you are better off demonstrating what you know and what you can do, rather than holding yourself back because you’re restricted by the assumption that you will not be heard because you are a woman. We can be our own worst enemy.

This makes me think about International Women’s Day last year. During the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to London, there was a women only panel as part of a CEO forum, and it was the most inspiring panel I had witnessed. It shed light on the opportunities which already exist in the Kingdom for women and how many more opportunities there would be in the future, instead of looking back to the past. It was a truly exciting and empowering opportunity.

For lawyers, I believe a relevant factor is approach. At Pinsent Masons, we encourage all of our lawyers to think of themselves as commercial partners for our clients and deliver legal solutions to meet their needs, rather than badging ourselves as a particular kind of lawyer. Those are internal badges which are not necessarily relevant to the client. This means that we understand our client’s business and the environment in which we are giving the legal advice, and this gives us the confidence to deliver this advice, which has certainly assisted me in my career.

It has also made my career much more interesting, and I certainly would not have thought when I started out 25 years ago that I would still love my job! My family laugh at how much I know about municipal solid waste and airports, but I believe it is necessary to do a good job!

Finally, I should address the question: Have I been lucky? In true lawyer fashion, I’m going to say yes and no! I have not been held back because of my gender, either as a lawyer or as a person operating in the construction industry. In my firm I am one of many female partners, I am one of four female board members out of nine for the Pinsent Masons board, and I am the board member responsible for our association with Alsabhan & Alajaji Law Firm in Saudi Arabia.

I have led some of the most instrumental construction projects, including advising the sponsors on the new terminal at Zagreb International Airport – which is now operational – and I also sit on the board of the British Aviation Group. I am sure there is an element of luck, but I also feel that you have to make your own luck.


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