How long have you been in the rail industry? What brought you to the railway industry? (why did you join the rail sector or what inspired you to join the rail sector?)
I have been advising railway companies and others within the industry (or having an interface with the industry) since 1997. Having originally started as a corporate and project lawyer advising a number of industries (including rail), my practice now consists entirely of advising in the railways industry. I was inspired to focus on the rail sector because it is an interesting industry with many challenging projects. I especially love being able to point at a piece of rail infrastructure or rolling stock and say that I helped to make that a reality.
What does your role consist of? What is a typical day?
I am a partner in a busy rail practice working with a number of other partners as well as associates and trainees advising clients on a variety of matters in franchising, regulation, rolling stock procurement/financing and investment.
There is no typical day! That’s what makes it so exciting and interesting.
How do you balance home and work life? What advice would you give to other women?
I think it is wrong to suggest that work and home life are even in “balance”! My experience is that there are times when work has to take priority and other times when home life needs to be the most important thing. The trick is knowing when and making sure that it is not always one way. My advice is to make sure that your support network at home and work is solid so that when you are at work, you don’t need to worry about what is going on at home (and vice versa!).
What is it about the industry that you love? (what do you find most rewarding in your career?)
I’ve already said above that I love being able to point at something I have helped to create (such as a piece of infrastructure or rolling stock). But I also love the people I work with – in my team, but also with my clients. They are the kind of people I like to spend time with and they make the hard work easier as a result.
What would you say is the achievement you are most proud of?
Outside of work, I have four wonderful children and a very supportive husband. Trying to work and keep that going is a big achievement. My eldest daughter has recently passed her A levels with flying colours and is off to university to become a Doctor. I am incredibly proud of that and my other achievements as a wife and mother.
In your career, what is the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
In 2013 I moved from a partnership in one law firm to my current position in Stephenson Harwood. I was engaged to establish a rail commercial practice. Although I had been working in rail at that time for a number of years, this was a real challenge for me and one that I did not know I was going to be able to do. It was also a real risk – as there was no particular reason for me to leave my previous role. I’m pleased to say that 3 years on, it is the best decision I have made and, although it still remains a challenge, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
Has anyone inspired you during your career (and, if so who and why?)
I have been inspired by many women and men throughout my career. A particular woman I have been inspired by was a partner in the regulatory practice at the firm I trained at. I was always impressed that she managed to grow a significant practice whilst remaining quite “normal” and down to earth – treating everyone from the chief executive down the same. I always strive to offer this respect to people I work with.
In your opinion, what is the recipe for success – for a team, career, or otherwise?
Plan what you want to do with your career in 2, 5 and 10 years. You are unlikely to follow a straight line (particularly if you have any career breaks for family or other reasons) but you can keep reviewing your plan and amend as necessary to reflect where you are. But do plan, do make a list of what you need to do to meet that plan. Speak to lots of people and test that plan. Then do it.
Do you think women handle leadership roles differently from men?
I think I prefer to think about the positive points I can learn from both men and women and take what I can from each person to then reflect in my own leadership style. Some men can have different leadership styles from other men; likewise, some women can have different styles.
What do you see as the challenges to attracting more women into rail and what do you think could be done to make a difference?
I think the industry is often seen as a ‘dirty’ heavy engineering industry and this can detract women. Actually, we are working in a highly technological, customer focussed industry that should attract women. We need to find ways in which to draw out those elements for young women to let them know that it is an exciting and diverse industry to be involved in.
What advice would you give to young women / other women working in rail?
Get involved in as many different projects as you can. Broaden your experience as much as you can and see the industry from the perspective of all of the parties within the industry. Don’t be afraid to getting stuck into areas where you may have no experience – particularly in relation to engineering or the heavy industry side.
Interviewed September 2016