GTA Construction Report staff writer
Construction lawyer Catherine DiMarco tried her hand at various practice areas earlier in her career, but once she discovered construction law, she never looked back. DiMarco is now a partner with Heal & Co. LLP, a boutique law firm specializing in construction, engineering and municipal law.
DiMarco says she left an interesting and rewarding job with the provincial government, understanding that she lacked room for advancement. Law school beckoned.
“I articled at a full-service firm and tried a lot of different things but nothing really stuck,” she said. “It’s true that often where you sit physically in a firm can impact your future, and in my case that was certainly true.”
An office move put her near her current partner, Andrew Heal, her partner now at Heal & Co., which gave DiMarco her first exposure to construction law. “From the start, the construction industry, and the practice of law within it, was challenging and dynamic, the projects complex and the people smart and savvy. I was hooked.”
DiMarco says she gained early exposure and a good foundation in construction law from first-rate lawyers, mentors and teachers. In April 2013 she and Andrew Heal formed Heal & Co.
DiMarco says that although she encounters few women on the other side of the table, she finds “gender is less of an issue with the clients I deal with. They simply want a good lawyer who knows what she’s doing.”
That said, DiMarco says more attention needs to be paid to advancing women in the construction industry. When Heal suggested that she seek a female industry mentor, she discovered how few there were.
“The issue of women in the industry is about historical evolution.” Di Marco said. “While any opportunity for growth and change should be welcome, any culture shift is slow and, in this case will only come with time and with more women making their way into the industry.”
She says women experience higher success hurdles, especially when there are physical challenges and other job-site constraints. “Women statistically still carry a disproportionate amount of responsibility for the family, whether it be caring for children or aging parents, or looking after the home.”
She says professional careers can be unforgiving and the odds can be stacked against women when they need to be away from the job, since it is often the woman who has to manage work around other responsibilities.
DiMarco’s spouse, children and parents have helped her to manage the balance, allowing her to stay on top of industry trends to better serve clients, knowing she has others to share the load.
“There is plenty of room for things to be different, but it will only come with more women taking leadership roles and bringing change from within,” she said. “There needs to be a more seamless acceptance of women in the industry, not surprise first, then reluctant acceptance.”
For her part, DiMarco has worked with CAWIC (Canadian Association of Women in Construction) to help support and encourage women in the industry and to help find ways to bring about that change.
She says events like the women’s build for Habitat for Humanity motivate and empower women, forming mutual support relationships.
DiMarco says she would advise women considering a construction law career to stick with it, avoid listening to detractors and have faith. “You have to believe you can do the job and give yourself enough time to hit your stride. Know you can do it, reach for higher goals and support other women on the same journey.”