Global Competition Review women in antitrust 2016: Jeanne Pratt

Senior Deputy Commissioner Jeanne Pratt was named as one of the Global Competition Review’s top 100 women in antitrust for her contributions to the global field of competition law. In the following interview, also published in GCR, Ms Pratt discusses how she came to work in competition law and eventually at the Bureau, she shares some observations on how the workforce and competition law practice have evolved over the years and comments on the importance of building an inclusive and respectful workplace.


Job title: Senior Deputy Commissioner, Mergers and Monopolistic Practices

Employer: Competition Bureau, Government of Canada

Number of years working in antitrust: 17

How did you become interested in competition law?

After my call to the bar in 1999, I worked as a political assistant on Parliament Hill. At that time, one of Canada’s two national airlines was in difficulty and the second airline was the only option to take over the assets, to ensure continuing service to communities. However the prospect of a monopoly provider raised significant competition issues.

The parliamentarian that I worked for at the time was intricately involved in the legislative hearings and discussions, which were intended to address the competition issues while still ensuring that all Canadians continued to have access to domestic air service.

The issue concluded with Canada’s cabinet suspending the merger provisions of Canada’s Competition Act to permit the transaction to proceed. Sector-specific legislative amendments were made and the airline committed to ensure that aspects of competition would be protected, for the benefit of Canadian consumers.

This was my first significant exposure to competition law and I found it to be an incredibly interesting area, involving criminal law, constitutional law, economics and high profile cases. When I returned to practice law, I decided that it was an area that I wanted to pursue.

How did you come to work at the Competition Bureau?

"I loved it at the Bureau: I loved the case work and I loved the work environment"

I was practicing competition law full time at a law firm in Toronto in 2009, just after the most significant amendments to Canada’s Competition Act in 25 years. Melanie Aitken, who had just been appointed as Commissioner of Competition, offered me the incredible opportunity to come to the Bureau on an interchange as her special legal advisor. It was a very interesting time in competition law and with an enforcement-minded Commissioner, I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the Bureau and to work on some really interesting cases. The idea of the interchange was that I would work for the Bureau for a couple of years and then go back to the law firm, but I loved it at the Bureau: I loved the case work and I loved the work environment. I was fortunate that the opportunity to join the Bureau full-time arose before my interchange was up and I entered the Bureau permanently as an Assistant Deputy Commissioner in the cartels branch. I was in cartels for 31/2 years, then became the Senior Deputy Commissioner for mergers and monopolistic practices in January 2015.

Now you’ve been nominated as one of the top women in antitrust in the world: what does that mean to you?

It’s an elite community of women in antitrust throughout the world and it’s very flattering to be included in the same category as those very impressive women.

What advice would you give to women students or practitioners just starting out in their career?

"For us at the Bureau: the client is the public interest. Know that you are always a service provider"

Be curious. Be confident. Seek out and make the best of mentoring opportunities. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from some of the best male and female competition lawyers and enforcement officials in Canada. Finally, always remember that you are a service provider entrusted to serve the interests of clients. For us at the Bureau: the client is the public interest.

What inspires you to continue to excel now that you’ve been working with the Bureau for a number of years?

I continue to be motivated by the subject matter and the impact of our work. And I get to work with and learn from very bright economists and lawyers on cases that matter to our economy and the development of competition law in Canada. The international work is also very rewarding: I have the opportunity to meet enforcement officials from around the world and to work with them on policy and cases that allow us to continue to learn and to develop.

Do you see any barriers for women working in antitrust?

"I think there is a lot of progress that is being made that will benefit not only women lawyers but also our male counterparts who want to try to achieve both a fulfilling career and a fulfilling life"

I think the barriers to women in antitrust are similar to the barriers to women in the legal profession more generally. It’s the business of law that is sometimes not aligned to the priorities of individuals. I don’t think that’s a female-specific issue, I think that’s an individual life choice issue. I think there is a lot of progress that is being made that will benefit not only women lawyers but also our male counterparts who want to try to achieve both a fulfilling career and a fulfilling life.

Has it changed very much since you first entered the workforce?

“15 years ago there was no way you would wear a pantsuit to a job interview at a law firm and you would not wear pants to court”

I think it has changed tremendously in some ways. For example, 15 years ago there was no way you would wear a pantsuit to a job interview at a law firm and you would not wear pants to court. That wasn’t so long ago. These things are symbolic, but they do mark a change.

There is huge momentum today towards recognizing the benefits of diversity in both the public sector and the private sector, both for commercial interests and for public interests. To have a diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences enriches both policy debates and commercial interests by helping a company to grow, innovate and be more productive.

Do you see any gender pay gaps in the field?

I have never experienced that. I was very fortunate to work in a very competitive, private sector law firm where the criteria for remuneration and advancement were very objectively and clearly laid out. You knew what the milestones were that you had to meet. They were demanding and challenging but if you were willing to dedicate yourself to the achievement of those objectives, you could do it whether you were a woman or a man.

Those who want to dedicate themselves to the profession of law as a priority can achieve that. But for those who don’t want to prioritize their career as the predominant focus, it may be more challenging. This tends to associate itself with women because of women’s relationship to children in the motherhood role, especially in the early years. It’s all about momentum: for those who choose to take parental leave, when they return they are behind not just due to time away from the office but also due to lost momentum from serving clients that have gone elsewhere for service during that interim period.

Are there efforts being made at your office to create a more equal workplace, or is there a need for it?

“The debate has now moved towards focusing on how we can achieve a more diverse workforce and a culture that values everyone’s perspective in the debate; to make the most effective and innovative decisions.”

Equality is not the word that I would use for it: it is diversity and inclusiveness. There is much recognition of the benefits of diversity and inclusiveness for achieving an innovative and productive workforce and improving overall decision-making. Both the Government of Canada and the private sector law firms that I have worked with are increasingly valuing that diversity for the commercial and intangible benefits that it delivers. At the Competition Bureau we have a very passionate group of people who are seeking to identify ways to improve diversity and inclusiveness in our organization. I believe the debate has now moved towards focusing on how we can achieve a more diverse workforce and a culture that values everyone’s perspective in the debate; to make the most effective and innovative decisions.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“Helping someone and providing service is hugely rewarding whether you’re in the public or private sector; the rewards are even greater in competition law which is intellectually challenging, dynamic and constantly evolving”

I mentioned before how important client service is and how those of us working in competition law need to know our clients and serve them well by protecting their interests. I always enjoyed my private sector work helping my clients. Client service can be much more complex in the public space, involving balancing competing interests to serve the public interest, which can sometimes be very difficult to achieve. But it is also hugely rewarding. I’m the child of two public servants so I grew up with the ethos that you give back. Helping someone and providing service is hugely rewarding whether you’re in the public or private sector; the rewards are even greater in competition law which is intellectually challenging, dynamic and constantly evolving.

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