Influential Canadian Expat Beth Minchau Shares Her Thoughts on Working as a Lawyer in Saudi Arabia
Beth Minchau was in a store in Saudi Arabia, juggling her kids while trying to pay for her purchases, when she had one of her biggest “culture shock” moments.
As she jostled through the crowd trying to catch the attention of the cashier, she learned very quickly that the Saudi people don’t follow the same conventions as Canadians do when it comes to queuing in an orderly fashion.
“A lovely, fully covered woman beside me advised, in perfect English, that “They will not give you your turn, you must take it,” says Minchau.
It was good advice, and it helped Minchau to realise that while living abroad she needed to step beyond her own cultural boundaries to forge a life for herself in a new place.
As a Canadian, Beth is the first lawyer working for Saudi Aramco who isn’t either Saudi or American, and is one of the very few women practicing law in Saudi Arabia.
Not only does she provide outstanding law services for Saudi Aramco, she also offers legal services to expats who make their home in Saudi Arabia. She mostly assists people with their documents for international transactions - such as making investments or opening bank accounts. She works to bridge the gap between their home country and their new home in Saudi Arabia.
She has been setting an inspiring example by moving in circles that other Canadians have not been able to enter to this point and has also been setting an example for Saudi women with her work ethic.
Choosing the Most Inspiring Canadian Expat
Canadians living abroad represent an incredibly rich and valuable resource and provide a benefit for the worldwide economy. They are usually well-educated, adept at integrating into different lifestyles and serve as cultural ambassadors of Canada.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Expat put out a search for the most influential Canadian living abroad - someone who has made a positive influence on the world and has excelled in their chosen field. Many were nominated for the honour, including the previous executive director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, actor and author Michael J. Fox, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Chief International Correspondent for the BBC.
After a two month period of collecting nominations and narrowing down the list to the top 10 individuals, then putting that shortlist out to be voted on, the winner was decided. While every expat on the list has led a fascinating life and built an admirable career - only one could be chosen.
Beth is “thrilled, surprised and grateful, but also very humbled” to have been named the most influential Canadian expat. “It brings home to me that I am just one part in a big community and that it is important to play my role to the best of my ability,” she says.
A Groundbreaking Career
“I have been fortunate to be the first Canadian in the role of legal counsel for Saudi Aramco and one of very few women ever in that role,” says Minchau.
Her family, including kids, moved to Saudi Arabia in 1992 when her husband took a job with Saudi Aramco. She was open to the adventure of living somewhere different and they both became active in the community.
Beth taught piano lessons for many years and was the Commissioner of the local kids swim league. Her husband coached her son’s baseball team and is currently the President of the Golf Club. When the kids eventually went to school, Beth joined the company too.
She initially worked in contracting roles, catching the attention of the law organization which recruiter her to the role of legal counsel. Saudi Aramco provided her with quite a few excellent opportunities for legal work experience and soon enough she was working as lead counsel on several projects that were critical to the country as a whole. Minchau remembers being awed the first time a transaction that she was advising on was discussed in the international press.
She considers herself greatly privileged to be one of the very few women to visit the construction sites of major petrochemical projects on which she advised - incredibly impressive installations including gas processing facilities and refineries.
Although Saudi Aramco is an oil company, they also handle some of the construction for the government including sports facilities. Minchau remembers walking on the grass at the spectacular King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on which she advised during the construction. It was was exciting to see the plans come to life.
Minchau also offers legal services to Canadian expats who find it difficult to navigate the complex local system. She helps them to manage banking and other transactions, as well as notarizing documents, verifying identities, find appropriate resources and other legal tasks. She considers this her “community service” - a way of giving back to the Canadian expat community.
Day to Day Life in Saudi Arabia
So, what does a typical day look like for Beth Minchau? It involves a bit of work, a bit of family and friend time
“Office hours are 7 to 4, Sundays to Thursdays, so I am up early and make the short drive to the office. Work is hectic, and I generally stay late to take advantage of the time without the phone ringing. In the evenings I like to walk with a friend or two around the outside of the golf course, a path of about 6km, and then spend time communicating with family and friends. In short, life is pretty much the normal routine that we would have anywhere. We also travel quite often.”
Minchau is energised by her significant role in the company and the knowledge that the work she does makes a difference. She loves seeing a project progress and become a reality. The thing that she sometimes finds challenging is the bureaucracy that comes with working for a huge company.
Proud to be a Canadian Expat
Beth Minchau says she is very proud to be a Canadian expatriate.
“I think that Canadians, as a group, are generally viewed as well educated and hardworking. We are also usually able to laugh at ourselves, which bridges lots of gaps.”
After all, a good sense of humour is essential when working with a team of people from all over the world. With kindness, humour and understanding, a meaningful connection can be made.
“I remember a time of family stress when I realized that my Saudi colleagues had, over time, become my friends. At some level, gender and cultural differences melt away.” says Minchau.
Paving the Way for Women in the Workplace
Minchau sets an inspiring example to Saudi women with her worth ethic. She has been one of the few women in the roles that she has had within the company and by doing so she has shown her colleagues that a woman can be just as effective as a man.
She has never backed down from any challenge and she has encouraged Saudi women to do the same and forge ahead in these roles themselves. Men get instant acceptance in Saudi culture, while women have to work harder to make themselves heard.
“I have found the younger generation of Saudi women to be smart, engaged and optimistic,” says Minchau. “They are going to be a force to be reckoned with and are already opening many doors. I have been privileged to be able to help them to give those doors an extra shove!”