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Q&A with Cate Trotter

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Cate Trotter, Senior Manager.

How could you describe your career path in a few words?

I’ve loved my career so far!

I studied Design and Eco-Design at Goldsmiths in London - this was really about creative thinking and problem solving.

I was then an Ethical Marketing Consultant before starting two companies of my own. One delivered design tours of London - we showed London’s cutting-edge sustainability solutions, and were the first company to offer a street art tour. The London Tube Tour was another favourite of mine.

I also launched and ran a consultancy that helped clients such as Nike, TikTok, Unilever, LVMH and Meta navigate the future of retail. I went all over the world, spotting and covering retail trends.

I’m now a Senior Manager at D-Lab, a global innovation and strategy consultancy within GHD, an engineering company of 11,000 experts. 

The team was set up to respond to a new set of projects emerging from GHD’s clients in construction, transport, energy, water and communities. GHD’s clients are looking for new and better ways to understand what their users really need, they want to design digital systems to serve their communities better, they want to build new visions for their organisations as we transition to a zero-carbon future, and much more. 

I’m lucky enough to work across a variety of challenges like this, drawing on all my past experience whilst evolving it.

What was your most challenging experience and how has it changed your mindset?

I don’t think of my career as having defining challenges. In my journey, especially as I grew my own businesses, challenges didn't come as isolated incidents. Instead, each success opened the door to a new growth opportunities and chances to learn.

After tackling something particularly difficult, I’ve always taken time to note down what worked and what I’d do differently next time. This has been so helpful in breaking down big challenges into manageable steps and in helping me progress at a good pace. I’ve been told I’m good at taking action - I think this is because I prefer it to worrying! 

Ultimately, I see challenges as a win-win: either you conquer your challenge and move onto the next one, or you gain valuable lessons for the next round. It’s good to feel that the outside world is letting me progress at the best rate. When you realise every situation is an opportunity, every outcome has a good level of reward.

When you get surprised by an unusual or uncertain situation, what do you think or do?

I’ve found myself in so many surprising situations in my career! I’ve attended work dinners with Colin Firth, I’ve opened conferences from Lima to Mumbai, I've presented my research to boards and c-suites, I’ve spoken alongside Seth Godin. I didn’t feel ready for any of these things!

In many situations, I’ve learnt to trust other people’s opinion over my own. If someone offers me an opportunity that I don’t feel ready for, I still say yes to it. Other people clearly think I’m ready, so I choose to be led by that. 

Practical steps help enormously too - for example, asking as many questions as I can till I truly feel I understand what’s needed and why. I’m very happy to ask ‘stupid’ questions early on to avoid looking stupid later on. Finding out what others have done when they’re in the situation, and the steps they’ve taken to be successful, has always helped too.

At the end of the day, much of it boils down to embracing discomfort. Taking the leap, even when it feels awkward or daunting, is often my first step to surprising myself with what I’m capable of. Instead of aiming for absolute perfection, my goal is usually just to complete the task at hand. Removing the weight of 'perfection' often allows me to relax, and ironically, be more successful than I would be otherwise.

Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?

To be honest, I’ve never seen myself as a ‘female’ leader - at work, I see myself as a businessperson, just like everyone else. A woman’s key success factor should be the same as anyone else’s. 

My companies’ sales primarily came through digital platforms. My gender never played a role in the customer's decision-making process. The quality of the service and the effectiveness of the online copy were what influenced people. It’s sad to think that my gender might have affected people’s decisions.

I come from a supportive family who have always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, and never questioned my choices of profession or industry. I’ve never seen myself as an outsider - maybe that has helped.

This question reminds me of an invaluable piece of advice: you're only 50% of every situation you find yourself in. While you can influence your own success, it's not entirely in your hands. So one of the best things we can do is to support other women and minorities at work, to improve external success factors for others. This can be as simple as flagging spots where men are overrepresented, like in top leadership roles or conference speaker lists, or getting behind programs that help women climb the career ladder. By doing this, we're not just helping one group; we're challenging the biases that hold everyone back. It's less about making women feel like they've got to solve the bias issue themselves, and more about working together to fix a bigger problem.

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