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HomeNewsFrançoise Plusquellec says Citi weighs law firms’ policies on diversity when it’s hiring

Françoise Plusquellec says Citi weighs law firms’ policies on diversity when it’s hiring

Françoise Plusquellec says Citi weighs law firms’ policies on diversity when it’s hiring

It comes as no surprise that the person running Citi Private Bank’s initiative to promote the careers of women within the organization’s Spanish operation is Françoise Plusquellec. As a woman and a lawyer, she is well-qualified to handle the extra responsibility that being a member of the steering committee of Citi Women Spain involves, a task she performs in addition to her primary role as the bank’s global head of investment finance legal. “Life balance is a challenge that men and women face in a variety of industries, but women lawyers must deal with grueling and but, more importantly, often unpredictable hours, while still faced with the challenge of trying to have a family or a social life and that takes a lot of very careful juggling,” she says.

Citi Women Spain—which is part of the global Citi Women network—is focussed on improving gender diversity and equality within the organization. Plusquellec, who is the mother of two young daughters, says the aim of the initiative is to address the issues of fairness and inclusivity in the workplace and provide staff, whether they are male or female, with opportunities to come up with ideas for staff to develop and thrive “without gender bias.” Around half of Citi’s Spanish employees have bought into the idea. More than 50 per cent of Citi’s employees in Spain are members of the Citi Women Spain network, and 30 per cent of those are men. “Promoting an environment where talent, not gender, should be the measure for recognition and development, you are more likely to attract the best professionals in the market,” Plusquellec says. “Creating an environment where people know they can strive based on their merits, rather than be held back based on gender, allows us to bring out the best in people by making them more confident and productive, and possibly the best versions of themselves they can be, not to mention reduce the cost of [staff] turnover.”

Promoting an environment where talent, not gender, should be the measure for recognition and development, you are more likely to attract the best professionals in the market.

Citi has set itself a target in terms of the amount of women it wants to see in positions of power within the organization. By 2021, the bank wants at least 40 per cent of its mid-level and senior employees to be women, which would represent a slight increase on the current level of 37 per cent. Plusquellec says it is vital that more companies try to replicate the Citi Women program. She makes reference to a McKinsey Global Institute report that concluded that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. “The report shows that if women – who account for 50 per cent of the world’s working-age population – do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer,” Plusquellec says. “I think it is important to emphasize that women’s networks are about promoting gender equality, that is giving equal access to professional opportunities to men and women, especially at the more senior levels, as long as, and I think this should be emphasized, a woman is the most qualified person for the position.”

She adds: “In other words, it is about not missing out on career opportunities because you are woman, rather than being given those opportunities because you are one.”

Citi also expects the law firms it uses to take the issue of diversity seriously. Indeed, Plusquellec says that law firms’ “engagement with respect to diversity” is one of the factors taken into consideration when Citi is selecting external lawyers. However, there are, of course, a number of other factors that are taken into account. “Considering the practical facts and circumstances of the matter, we consider the risk to Citi, the subject matter expertise and experience of the external firm, the strength of the actual lawyers that advise us, the firm’s history with Citi, and the overall cost of representation,” Plusquellec says. She adds: “In my experience, subject matter expertise and practical experience are perhaps the most important factors in predicting success. In addition, the ability to demonstrate a practical and sensible approach to problem solving, as well as being able to securely and soundly structure a transaction, is key.”

Plusquellec says that it is a prerequisite that all law firms the business engages with are members of the Citi Legal Network. “This is a global collection of firms that have been thoroughly evaluated by our operations unit, Citi Global Legal Solutions, to ensure that our lawyers have ready access to recognized expertise by both practice area and geography,” she explains. “From the onset of any matter, this structure allows our lawyers to focus on selecting counsel based on the needs at hand, knowing that network firms have met Citi’s strict standards of engagement, which are the product of best practices across Citi and are consistent with Citi Legal’s strategy to implement processes and systems that are global, uniform and straightforward.”

Citi’s investment finance legal team,  which Plusquellec leads, consists of 10 regional lawyers located in Madrid, Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, Miami, London, Geneva and Dublin. “It is very much a global team,” Plusquellec says. “We are dedicated to the legal support of our investment finance product within the private bank.” The investment finance legal team is part of the legal department led by general counsel Akiko Yamahara, who is based in New York and manages all of the private bank’s lawyers globally.

Citi uses a wide range of law firms, with the selection of adviser depending on the nature of the expertise required, the jurisdiction in question, and the relevant practice area. “Panel firms run the gamut from very large to very small, multinational to highly localized or specialized, and top-of-the-market to much smaller firms, but all are firms that have been deemed to provide the required expertise at the right value to Citi,” Plusquellec says.

Engage with senior management at the outset—the support and involvement of management in initiatives like this one is fundamental to its success.

However, in addition to having the relevant experience, expertise, and problem-solving skills, law firms must also demonstrate a commitment to .diversity if they want to win Citi’s business. If a law firm, or any other organization, feels it is weak in this area, what practical steps can it take to improve? “The first piece
of advice I would give is to engage with senior management at the outset—the support and involvement of management in initiatives like this one is fundamental to its success,” Plusquellec says. “The other key to success I think is putting together a group of employees that can lead by example, with drive, conviction and passion – these initiatives take years of effort and dedication and they are very time consuming, not to mention they come on top of your day job so the leaders of the initiative need to be truly committed.”

It is also important to always come up with new concepts to drive the program forward, Plusquellec says.
“Do not be afraid to go outside your comfort zone to come up with innovative and creative ideas.” It’s sound advice for law firms, and especially for those firms hoping to win Citi as a client.

—A version of this article originally appeared in our affiliate Iberian Lawyer

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