At LegalWeek CONNECT next month, Nestlé UK and Ireland GC Mark Maurice-Jones will be part of a panel of senior in-house lawyers discussing gender diversity and the legal profession’s efforts to improve representation. Ahead of the event, he discusses stereotypes, #MeToo and the pay gap.

At LegalWeek CONNECT you’re part of a panel discussion on legal departments and how they can drive better diversity within legal teams – what are you expecting to touch on?

When we talk about diversity and inclusion, the most important thing is inclusion – you’ve got to bring everybody together. So if you start talking about men versus women, you get into dangerous territory. For example, if you have women-only meetings, people can feel quite excluded. It’s about being fair to everyone and including everyone.

Do you think male lawyers are being stereotyped?

I think role models are really important. If the partners in firms are middle-aged white men, that in itself creates a culture; whereas we need to encourage a culture of inclusivity.

Firstly, it’s about shining the light on this issue, as not everyone thinks there’s an issue. We need to recognise we all have biases and sometimes we behave in certain ways because of these underlying biases.

People in senior positions have to create the culture because they are where those barriers and stereotypes can be broken down. But of course this can be encouraged by everyone – not just those in senior positions.

➤➤  Diversity and inclusion, in particular gender equality, is the focus of day two of LegalWeek CONNECT, taking place on 28-29 November at County Hall, London SE1. Click here for more information

As we approach the end of 2018, do you think there is still a fair amount of gender imbalance and discrimination in legal teams?

My experiences at Nestlé are that at a certain level – at a lawyer advisory level – we have a good representation of female lawyers. But when we get to the senior levels, that’s when you start to see the number of women dropping.

Within private practice, or among partners or management roles, you still today start to see a reduction in the number of women.

What’s your view on the pay gap scandal and firms not having to report on partner pay?

I understand from hearing others speak about this that some law firms have been a bit slow in terms of reporting their pay gaps, using technical arguments as to why the rules don’t apply to law firms in the same way as they do other businesses.

I do think that with the gender pay reporting, we found it helpful in that it just confirms some of the things that we knew already – that we don’t have as many women working at the senior end. And it’s really important to shed light on this issue.

How have things changed in light of #MeToo? Are you noticing a change, or at least more discussion of the topic?

Here at Nestlé, we have diversity and inclusion as one of our key business drives – it’s part of our strategy plan. So we have to initiate this within our plans for the business.

It’s important to be able to measure how these are working as well, introducing a way to measure how effectively the techniques are working to encourage diversity.

What is Nestlé doing to address the issue of diversity?

Firstly, we are trying to raise lots of awareness. This I think is very important because I don’t think there actually is awareness across the whole board and within all communities.

We’ve also launched training for people to understand what is meant by unconscious bias. It’s a thing that everyone has, but we’re training people so they can understand their own unconscious biases better. Before we make any decisions, we tend to go over and repeat the principles around unconscious bias we have learned.

We are also looking to get more women in our progression plans towards the more senior end of the business, and getting better at calling out any bias in all areas – shining a light and encouraging greater transparency.

How can companies use their powers, be it financial or reputational, to increase legal diversity?

That’s something we have thought about – whether we should be required to ask our suppliers to adhere to certain standards of diversity. We haven’t taken it to that point yet, but it’s certainly something that could work.

How will Nestlé look to continue this drive for diversity in the future?

Apart from the things I’ve just discussed, we’ve built up diversity advocates across the company to drive cultural change.

We will continue to do what we’ve been doing and will continue to raise discussions, continue to look at people’s succession plans, and if women aren’t included in our teams’ succession plans, then why not? Basically, we’re going to keep banging on about it.

What about LegalWeek CONNECT are you most looking forward to?

It’s important for me to go to because this topic is a learning experience. My motivation for working in this area at Nestlé is that I’ve got five daughters, and I want their future to be one where they are treated fairly. I’m constantly being educated on how things might be perceived, and how we can improve. It’s all about learning from others and sharing ideas.