Farmida Bi, Partner and European Head of Islamic Finance, Norton Rose LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I studied Law at Cambridge and qualified as a lawyer in 1992 (England and Wales) and as a New York attorney in 1999. I became a partner in 2002.
I chose to pursue a career in law when I was 13 because I wanted to help people. I’m a securities lawyer now and, while it may not be obvious to other people that I’ve achieved my ambition, I feel that what I do is worthwhile.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
I advised the Pakistani Government on its debut bond issue. I was born in Pakistan and it felt like I was making a difference, helping the country to access the international capital markets.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Having enough hours in the day to manage client needs, manage my team and undertake business development is my greatest challenge. I spend a lot of time fire fighting and have learned to accept that I can only do the best I can, by dealing with the most important and most urgent matters first.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It is difficult to attain a work-life balance, especially if you have a family with young children and a very busy practice. I try to manage my work and home life by seeing my children in the mornings. I take them to school each day and this is really important to me as I don’t expect to see them in the evenings.
I also believe it’s important to have personal interests outside of work and family. I enjoy politics, literature and theatre and try to pursue these interests as often as is practical.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
There wasn’t a formal mentor system when I was studying and I didn’t have a specific mentor or role model but I did had a very clear idea about how I wanted to develop my career.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
There is still more work to be done. Positive discrimination for a designated period of time would for example help companies to get more women to exec level.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I work in a very male dominated world and you learn to adapt and get on with it but I do think big companies have a responsibility to make the workplace more female friendly.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
Diversity has risen up the agenda in recent years and companies are investing a lot in attracting and retaining the best talent but there is still more that can be done to support women in the workplace.
We have a number of initiatives, including the Women in Norton Rose (WiN) network which aims to provide opportunities to make contacts across the Group and with other networks. The network focuses on the specific skills that women need in order to maximise their business development and career potential and provides a visible forum within which issues affecting women can be freely raised and discussed and is intended to increase the retention of women in the firm.
Farmida is a ranked lawyer in the Chambers UK Guide.