Building bridges: Fashioning a future for women in construction and engineering law

Krevania Pillay

Krevania Pillay

25th August 2023


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Krevania Pillay is a Senior Associate in the Construction & Engineering sector at leading corporate and commercial law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH). In 2023, Pillay was recognised as a recommended lawyer by the Legal 500, EMEA, for construction and engineering. In this article, she unpacks the lessons she’s learned from her experience as a construction and engineering lawyer.

Over the past few decades, South Africa has witnessed a significant boom in its construction and engineering sector. The nation’s infrastructure demands, fuelled by urbanisation and industrialisation, have resulted in continuous construction projects, ranging from roads and bridges to commercial and residential developments. For this reason, rapid historic growth has attracted skilled professionals from various disciplines, forming a pool of expertise driving the nation’s development.

Within the broader construction and engineering industry, a niche area of law has developed to support construction projects’ complex legal framework and mechanisms for resolving disputes. In the niche yet growing construction and engineering law area, the presence of trusted legal advisers is critical to advancing the interests of parties to a construction dispute. I am grateful to be part of this dynamic law field and contribute to the wealth of expertise within the sector.
My experience in this field has taught me a few vital lessons:

Creating a Safe Space
Although I often find myself being the only woman in the room, this is not a barrier to any of the following traits required to advance a matter:

  • Showing up
  • Absorbing oneself in matter, participating in discussions, and producing a work product of the highest quality within the timelines required
  • Maintaining a position and expressing a view
  • Learning from each matter in which you are involved
  • Ensuring that the client is being provided with the most efficient and economic service possible.

Research shows marked differences in the communication styles of men and women in the workplace. Women are said to adopt a dialogue style that anticipates a participatory conversation, while men may lean toward a monologue or “mini speech” style, which minimises the possibility of interruption. Women are also said to wait for a turn to speak or be invited into a conversation, unlike men, who tend to speak when they have something to say. Understanding these differences and learning to navigate them can assist in expressing oneself effectively in any environment.

The increasing representation of women in this area also shows that we are building bridges and paving the way for future generations of female lawyers.

Embracing Mentorship for Accelerated Growth
I am a firm believer that success is a product of hard work.

It is possible to find success despite the circumstances you find yourself in, but it is much easier to do so with the support of colleagues.

In that sense, I am fortunate to be a part of a firm such as CDH, which comprises a network of talented lawyers willing to share their knowledge and clients with junior lawyers.

Mentorship plays a pivotal role in accelerating one’s growth within the construction and engineering law field. Having a mentor to provide invaluable guidance, insights and networking opportunities, all of which contribute to professional development and success, is key.

As more women enter the sector, fostering a supportive mentorship culture will ensure they continue to thrive and rise in the ranks.

Resilience is Key
The path to success may have obstacles, but staying resilient and persistent will lead to achievements and advancements in your career.

The industry presents a wealth of opportunities for women and women of colour. The key to success lies in persistence and determination. A mentor once told me that, much like a cricket match, success might not come overnight, but staying on the crease and continuing to bat will eventually yield positive results.

Advice for Aspirant Lawyers
For young women and lawyers who aspire to specialise in construction and engineering law, I offer the following advice:

  • Endless opportunities to learn: Construction and engineering law is an abundant source of knowledge and legal jurisprudence. To thrive, one must have an endless appetite to learn new things daily.
  • Seek mentorship: Find experienced professionals who can guide and support you in your journey. Mentorship can open doors for you and provide valuable insights. These may come from colleagues, counsel, and even clients.
  • There is no wrong answer: Aspiring lawyers must remember that making mistakes is part of learning. Embrace the possibility of getting things wrong and use it as an opportunity to grow and improve. As a mentor once said, your answer may be partly wrong, but that does not detract from all that you have got right.

The construction and engineering law industry has embraced a positive shift towards greater diversity and inclusivity. As a woman in this field, I am proud to be a part of it and recognise the vast potential for continued organic growth within the industry.

By embracing mentorship, embracing challenges, and cultivating an endless appetite to learn new things, lawyers and female lawyers can confidently pursue construction and engineering law careers.

The future is bright, and there is ample room for more women to thrive in this dynamic and evolving legal field.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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