Q&A with Deborah D’Aubney, Chief Counsel of Rolls-Royce

Deborah D’Aubney is Chief Counsel, Litigation & Investigations at Rolls-Royce. She qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales in 1992 and then worked for two years at a law firm in Birmingham. After a maternity leave in 1995, Deborah went on secondment to Forward Trust, the asset finance arm of Midland Bank which had just been acquired by HSBC. Deborah worked at HSBC for over 18 years in a variety of roles culminating in being the Group Head of Litigation. She joined Rolls-Royce in 2013.

Q: What have been the highlights of your career so far?

There have been many varied highlights. I was heavily involved in HSBC’s global response to criminal investigations led by the U.S. Department of Justice. There were three investigations happening at the same time – into non-compliance with sanctions, money laundering and alleged tax evasion in Switzerland. This was new territory for HSBC and was a very challenging – but also very exciting – time. After three years we entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the U.S. authorities in relation to sanctions and money laundering, paying a USD1.9 billion fine – a record amount at that time but since eclipsed by even greater fines in the banking industry. There were also political aspects, with the U.S. Congress weighing in through the Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations and several of HSBC’s senior executives were called to give testimony.

At Rolls-Royce I am using the experience I gained at HSBC to lead the response to the on-going bribery and corruption investigations by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, the U.S. Department of Justice and other criminal authorities.

On a more personal level I have enjoyed developing people. I am very proud that two former secretaries at HSBC are now Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives, following my urging them to move to a different level. They were so capable of doing so and just needed a nudge in the right direction.

Q: Organisations, like Rolls-Royce, in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries are often considered to be less appealing to women. What are your views on this? Do you have any advice for women seeking a career in STEM industries?

Just go for it. Responsible companies like Rolls-Royce are very supportive of diversity, including increasing the representation of women within the workforce. The legal work I am doing within a STEM company is as varied, challenging and interesting as any I have done elsewhere. I am not in favour of quotas for female employees but I have found it very helpful to seek out senior women and seek their help and guidance. I now regard it as my turn and I always try to be very supportive of female colleagues especially in areas of flexible working. This can apply just as much to men though!

Q: Is there a gender imbalance at Rolls-Royce? Does Rolls Royce actively promote the advancement of women’s careers?

Overall there are more men than women but that is not unusual for an engineering environment. There are various ways that the company actively supports women and their careers and, most importantly, the company recognises the disparity and is working to address it.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle for women in the workplace?

Many of the women I know suffer, like me, from a so-called imposter syndrome, a fear of being exposed that you are not as good as others and that you could be “found out” at any moment. Knowing that you are not the only person that feels this way is helpful. Women need to channel this, remember that lots of men, regardless of their skill level, don’t feel this way, and just take a deep breath and go for it.

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out in their career as a lawyer?

Be confident, but not cocky. Always turn up on time; always try to be thinking of what extra little things you can do to make yourself stand out. Enjoy your work and have fun – and people will enjoy working with you. Take the job very seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Q: Have you been involved in any interesting pro bono work?

In the UK there is a charitable organisation, Teach First, which supports top graduates through an accelerated teaching qualification, aiming to address educational disadvantage in the most challenged schools. I have been a coach on the scheme which was really enjoyable.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?

Not thinking about work! I am a fresh air freak, so spend my spare time outside as much as possible; walking, horse riding, etc. My two children are now grown up so I have replaced them with dogs (who are much easier to deal with!) and my husband and I enjoy nothing more than a long walk followed by a long lunch in a beer garden with our dogs asleep at our feet. I also go to the theatre often – I live in the Midlands so regularly visit the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. I love scuba diving when on holiday when the water is warm (“proper” divers would sniff at this, but I have to admit that having done my training in the UK I have no desire to ever dive in a flooded quarry in the middle of nowhere again…).

Q: What do you find the most difficult aspect of your current role?

I do a lot of international travelling. My friends think it sounds very glamorous but it really isn’t.

Q: Through your international travel, or through working with Rolls-Royce’s global network, have you experienced any differences in the way other countries treat professional women?

I have always found that if you approach any differences with courtesy and respect then you are treated with courtesy and respect in return. You always need to be aware of cultural differences and work within them, not try to resist them; to do otherwise would be disrespectful to the country which has accepted you as a visitor.

Q: What do you think makes a great woman leader?

The best women leaders I have known have been those who have not tried to act like men but have been aware of their potentially slightly different skills and brought them to the fore. It’s also really important in my view for senior women leaders to support those coming behind them.

Q: If you had decided not to become a lawyer, what other careers do you think you may have considered and why?

I would have liked to be a teacher. It’s something I may do in some capacity when I wind down from being a full-time lawyer. Other than that, I’d make a very good dog walker!