Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Meet our Member and Board Member, Maria Pernas Martinez, Group Executive Committee Member, Group General Counsel and Commercial and Contract Management at Capgemini. Following our first interview with Maria in 2015, we hear from her about her current role, about why having a diverse and inclusive workforce is so important for her company, and about what Capgemini is doing to promote gender parity at all levels.
You have vast experience working as a General Counsel in multinational firms. Currently, you serve as the Group Executive Committee Member, Group General Counsel and Commercial and Contract Management at Capgemini. Can you please tell us what motivated you to pursue a career in the Legal field and what your current position involves?
As you have noticed, I have built an international career as an in-house counsel. I studied Law and I quickly became attracted by figures, margin and growth. I enjoy working as a wholly integrated part of the business team, going beyond pure legal compliance and making the regulatory framework a strong growth and profit driver.
I am a Group Executive Committee Member and I am responsible for the Legal and Commercial Contract and Commercial Management functions with circa 700 professionals. This involves, on one side, working very closely with the Group’s senior management to advise on strategic matters (Business Operations, Corporate Affairs, Data, Cybersecurity, Regulatory, Intellectual Property or M&A, among others) and, on the other side, leading the CCM team to optimise contract performance.
I can therefore develop my two passions: business and technology. I work in an industry where challenges evolve at a very fast pace. We are required to contribute to the creation of the “soft law” and to develop innovative commercial behaviours.
The month of March saw the launch of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme, for which Capgemini has put forward five fantastic talents. We also commemorated International Women’s Day on 8th March. What are Capgemini’s commitments to gender diversity and representation? As a professional in a leadership role, and as a Board Member of WIL, what do you think are the next key steps to be taken?
As a Group, we believe in an inclusive culture and actively encourage more women to join our business and empower them with career paths and opportunities.
In the last few years, the number of women joining Capgemini has increased, reaching 34.9% of the headcount on a Capgemini legacy basis at the end of 2020. We are also committed to continuing to close the gender gap when it comes to accessing management and executive positions. We have put together a number of initiatives, including:
- re-focusing job descriptions, training recruiters and ensuring greater diversity in interview panels;
- expanding the mentoring programmes;
- rolling out and implementing a flexible work policy (adjusted by geography and role); and
- increasing the Diversity and Inclusion learning and development programmes for managers as well as visibility and exposure for women identified as “highflyers”.
The proportion of women promoted internally to the highest grade of Vice-President (VP) reached a record high of 29.3% during the 2020 promotion campaign and the percentage of external hires exceeded the threshold of 30%.
We have the “Women@Capgemini” network and Capgemini’s commitment to Gender diversity has been recognised with different awards in multiple countries (eg. second runner up in India in the Gender-Inclusive workplace category from the United Nations Women 2020 Asia Pacific, 2020+ Top Companies for Executive Women by Working Mother Media in North America, Times Top 50 Best Employers for Women in the UK, or Best employer for Women (5 stars out 5) by Brigitte in Germany).
With regard to Capgemini Legal, we are proud to embrace and exemplify Capgemini’s diversity and inclusion values. In fact, around 57% of our VPs within the legal function are female. We continue focusing on talent, professional excellence and value to the teams, and we support everyone to reach their maximum potential, regardless of their gender, background or other personal considerations.
In terms of next steps, although major progress has been made during recent years, we need to continue to have female leaders acting as role models and we need the strong sponsorship from the business and public sector leaders. This sponsorship exists and is visible in Capgemini.
Being a leader in consulting, digital transformation, technology and engineering services, Capgemini has a global presence. With teams located across the world, what is the role of the multicultural workplace to you? What have been some challenges you have faced and lessons you learned from working with your international colleagues?
I have always been a strong believer in Diversity and Inclusion. Placing people of different nationalities and personal backgrounds around a table fosters innovation and increases our chances of achieving the best result. Capgemini is truly a melting pot of all cultures and nationalities, and I feel honoured to work for this amazing company. This brings so much value to my work: learning from others, discovering new ways of doing things and building out-of-the-box results.
One of the challenges of multicultural teams is communication: making sure everyone works from the same semantic baseline and background and that cultural implied messages do not lead to miscommunication. Lessons learned: I find it is important to define and explain our Capgemini legal common “codes” and behaviours and put in place practical tips. For instance, when I start a meeting, I set expectations and make sure that we finalise with a detailed take-away to make sure we are all on the same page.
With the field of technology advancing rapidly, there is no doubt that the legislation surrounding it is also evolving quickly. How do you keep up with such changes? Could you tell us about how the accelerated pace of digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Legal field?
The Information Technology industry has substantially evolved over the last years and it is becoming heavily regulated. This trend does not look like it will be slowing down any time soon. For the legal professionals this implies a new challenge; legislation changes go more slowly than technological evolution, and this means that we need to find appropriate legal solutions to complex technology problems, within legal frameworks that are not always fully adapted. In Capgemini Legal I have developed a strong regulatory practice with experienced lawyers in charge of digital, innovation and policy issues. Thanks to our digital Legal Academy, we keep up to date and continue developing and enhancing our knowledge and expertise.
With regard to COVID-19, the Capgemini Legal and CCM teams continued to work alongside operations with minimal disruption; many of our processes were already digital. However, new topics arose: contractual issues associated with remote working; impacts on the data and cybersecurity frameworks; changes in the employment domain, etc. This required extra efforts, but we managed to address the challenges by showing agility to adapt to the new framework and finding the best solutions in the interest of our clients.
In addition to altering our lifestyles, the year of lockdowns and working from home has blurred the lines between private and professional life. What is your approach to a sustainable work-life balance? Moreover, what do you think that work-life balance will look like after the pandemic, particularly for women?
Work-life balance is a key success factor for professional growth. One positive aspect is that the home office has allowed us to increase time with our families by reducing time in transport, however the pandemic has definitively blurred the lines between work and family time.
We need to help our teams get through these challenging times. I have launched well-being sessions with a strong focus on resilience. The Capgemini Legal ‘Department of Joy’ sets up informal virtual meetings twice a week to maintain social exchanges. In India, the legal department implemented a “not online-day” to disconnect from email, virtual meetings and such to focus on specific subjects without the buzz of all the electronic devices. We have also set up a monthly survey to employees to make sure we have feedback from the ground up and can adjust our strategy accordingly.
With regard to the future, nothing will be the same (partial remote working will become the rule, less travelling, enhanced digitalisation….). We are defining new principles for the “New Normal” post Covid19, but I don’t see any specific issues for the female population. Both men and women will embrace the New Normal.
We always ask a question from the Proust Questionnaire at the end of our interviews. You could pick the question you prefer more: which talent would you most like to have? or what is your motto?