"Technical ability, adaptability, hard work, persistence and eagerness to learn and grow." That's how Nabilah Al-Tunisi, Chief Engineer for the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, sums up the reasons for her rise to a position from which she leads more than 1,000 engineers.
Al-Tunisi shared her history and her career advice for professional women as the keynote speaker at a women lawyers' meeting organized by Claire Matheson Kirton, Partner and Leader of the Middle East Women's Network, and for White & Case's Middle East offices. The half-day program also featured panel discussions and Q&A sessions with White & Case leaders, and an interactive developmental workshop using scenarios experienced by participants in business.
Partner Caroline Miller Smith, Executive Partner for the White & Case Global Women's Initiative, opened the program with an assessment of the exceptional progress White & Case is making toward gender balance in its Middle East offices. "Currently half of the Saudi associates are women," Miller Smith observed. "Egypt has welcomed three new women lawyers, and the first class of women graduated from the Saudi trainee program in January—a thrilling achievement for the region and the Firm."
Miller Smith introduced Al-Tunisi, who advised the participants that keeping focus on their work objectives and being professional in their approach to work are key to their ultimate success. "I'm known for promoting effective collaboration, distributing work fairly, and consistently appreciating the work of others, which does not take away from my contribution," Al-Tunisi said.
"As a leader," Al-Tunisi explained, "I ensured that we had an organizational culture based on honesty and integrity, with clear vision and mission, strategies, goals and responsibilities and team work—to ensure we unleash the power of the team." She added that professional women must continuously challenge and develop themselves, and not shy away from volunteering "to lead and carry the load that will accelerate your professional development and deliver greater success."
In a panel discussion that followed, Partner Asli Basgoz, leader of the Istanbul Women's Network, shared her pride in her involvement in the founding of a White & Case office in Turkey. Having started in that office as a young lawyer, Basgoz said, she learned that building a career is not a linear experience, and that learning from mistakes is an essential part of a career journey.
Basgoz said she worked at first with "her head down," only later coming to recognize the importance of looking up in order to build client relationships. She advised participants to nurture relationships both internally and externally, to grab opportunities to work directly with clients by not turning away work assignments big or small, and to build their personal brand.
"Building client relationships takes discipline and it takes time," Basgoz said, "but you can learn it, and it is important to do this early on in your career."
Miller Smith and Al-Tunisi together stressed the importance of building resilience and stamina to push through career challenges, and learning to regard setbacks as learning opportunities that can eventually yield proud achievements.
Attendees at the gathering were universally positive about the experience. Many women lawyers in attendance said they found the experience inspiring.
"The second panel was fantastic," said one attendee. "I thought the right issues were covered and it was great that partners had the chance to discuss openly the highs and lows of their careers, in particular the growth from associate to partner as a female. The key messages taken away were inspirational. The two that still stick are the fact that there will be lows, but that is normal and almost everyone has been through that in terms of career progression, and the firm will be behind you and support you if there are any difficult times."
"I think we should have more of these events, as it's such an important topic," said another attendee. "It was great to see that it is being given the attention it deserves."