Ana Isabel Montero Corbin, legal director, Japan Tobacco International

Ana Isabel Montero Corbin heads JTI’s legal team in Iberia, which includes five markets covered by different regulations (mainland Spain, the Canary Islands, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar). She explains what D&I means for JTI, and gives a candid assessment of the diversity of law firms in the region.

At JTI, we perceive inclusion and diversity as talent management, and believe that what makes a company is having the best talent. To that end, we try to ensure that JTI is a great place to work, driven by diversity – be that of thought, ideas or people. Diversity is key to generating ideas that enable our company to keep growing and improving.

While JTI has Japanese roots, we operate on a synergy of Western and Eastern thinking by bringing together the best people from various socio-cultural backgrounds, and integrating them to our ‘Kaizen’ philosophy. As part of our key values, this Japanese principle propagates a belief in the spirit of continuous improvement, and is something that we, at JTI, embody daily. Our employees are the driving force of our company and, as such, we always listen to their opinions, making sure that everyone has a voice and the opportunity to improve the way we work together.

As mentioned, talent management is key for us, and so we work hard on attracting and retaining the best people through our comprehensive training programmes and through possibility for international mobility. We strongly believe that a person’s progress is based on merit, performance and attitude, and we are adamant that we offer opportunities to keep developing in other countries, while learning from colleagues from over 100 different nationalities. We want our employees to feel welcome, respected and valued by acting on JTI’s core values of respect, care and diversity.

We invest in our people, and JTI is committed to providing equal opportunities for men and women. Traditionally the tobacco industry has been predominantly male, and we are still seeing remnants of this today. In Spain, the majority of those working in the field force, for instance, are men. Our challenge and our aim is to convey the message that the tobacco industry is not just for men, and to communicate that the number of women entering our business is growing steadily. Today, women account for 32% of JTI’s workforce in Iberia, and the Iberia management committee, which I am a member of, is 28% female as well. These percentages increase significantly at the managerial level.

Employee benefits

The management committee is dedicated to creating an open and diverse environment, free of discrimination. We also aim to ensure that our employees are satisfied where they are, by providing them with benefits like medical insurance, life insurance, food vouchers, etc.

Although such benefits are relatively common among multinationals, what differentiates us is our flexible compensation package. This allows employees to optimise their salaries by combining paychecks with other products offered by the company for tax purposes. In Iberia, we refer to this system as ‘JTI à la carte’, which is just one of the measures we have implemented to make the professional experience here more enjoyable.

Re-conceptualising work

Our primary objective is to become the most successful and responsible tobacco company in the world by holding ourselves to the highest standards, and we believe that achieving this goal starts with keeping our employees happy and motivated.

It is for this reason that we strive to establish a healthy work-life balance for all of our employees, regardless of their role in the company. We have implemented measures such as flexible working hours, whereby our employees have a window of three hours of flexibility to come in to the office; or the opportunity to work remotely for 24 days per year, which we refer to as teleworking.

JTI has really changed the way that it conceptualises work in the last few years. We focus on results and outcomes, and it does not matter where our people do their work from as long as we achieve our goals. By using the latest technology available on the market, our 26,000 employees worldwide have become more unified than ever because we can connect to one another from anywhere. Our employees all have access to the most up-to-date technology, such as laptops, mobiles, Skype accounts etc.

Listening to employees

As mentioned earlier, it is very important for us to empower our people, so that every individual working at JTI has a voice and can speak up to improve the way that we work together. For this reason, we conduct internal employee engagement surveys where we ask our employees worldwide to assess different aspects of the company, for instance, management or the environment in the workplace.

One of the main aspects that we measure in these surveys is inclusion – namely whether employees feel that they can be themselves, if they feel they are being heard by the company, and if the company supports equal opportunities for all employees. Based on these results, our employees are divided into work groups in order to brainstorm ideas on how to help the company keep improving. The participants themselves then present these results to the management committee in order to discuss their implementation.

Furthermore, in 2016, the Spanish branch of JTI signed up to a diversity charter that was launched in 2009 at the European Institute for Managing Diversity, supported by the Spanish Ministry of Equality. This means that we have formally committed to adhering to a number of basic principles, such as extending equal opportunities to all employees, combatting discrimination and being respectful of diversity in the workplace.

Thanks to all of these measures, JTI was nominated one of the best companies to work for in Spain by the organisation ‘Great Place to Work’, and was recognised as a top employer in Spain as well as a global top employer for three years running.

Diversity in the broader profession

The legal profession can generally be split between working in private practice or in-house and, in my opinion, the gender balance differs between the two in Iberia. In law firms, there seems to be a fairly equal male to female ratio at the associate level. However, this equilibrium is lost the further up the corporate ladder we go, where the majority of partners are men.

I think that law firms tend to have career development programmes in place for women; however diversity at the top level (that is to say, partners) has not yet materialised. JTI has an extensive panel of law firms that we work with in the Iberia region, but even so, most of the partners are men. Does that mean that we will not work with these law firms? Of course not, because we have other criteria in selecting whom we work with, such as relevant past experience and expertise.

These parameters are quite similar in British, American and Spanish law firms operating in Iberia, although it is possible that foreign firms have a corporate culture that is more developed in terms of diversity. Can we, as clients, put pressure on foreign and domestic firms to take the next step in promoting more women to partner? Possibly, but it is not clear to me to what extent.

On the other hand, more women in Spain have attained the position of general counsel. For instance, the legal department at JTI is 75% comprised of women – three of our four team members are female. What could be a possible reason for this? Maybe that in-house work offers more favourable work-life conditions, among other factors.

At JTI, we are discussing these issues more and more every year within the management committee, and are seeing positive outcomes from our initiatives. As said, in the past year we have increased the number of teleworking days in Iberia and have expanded our flexibility in terms of working hours. These conditions could be very attractive for women, and these improvements make me believe that we will continue to progress year after year.