Fatima Picoto

Assistant general counsel and legal director Brazil, GlaxoSmithKline

Curiosity has always been a part of who I am. As a child, I was curious about everything, and because of that curiosity, I questioned pretty much everything. Being Portuguese, but living in an African colony, my sense of equality and justice was developed early on. I found myself instantly respecting the need for diversity. Having resided in various different continents, this led to me to having dreams of being a diplomat, but instead I decided to pursue a career in law. Given my love of reading and my genuine interest in people and business, corporate law came naturally to me. I really enjoy work concerning business strategy, and this became very clear to me when I was studying economics and law. This interest was furthered while I completed my masters in tax. By joining the law, business and tax together, I discovered my passion. I then started my career as a tax lawyer at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

At GSK, I had the curiosity and passion to learn. With this, in addition to wanting to understand the business, and having people who trusted and supported me, I was eventually promoted to the position of assistant general counsel and legal director of GSK in Brazil. The reason I wanted to work at GSK was because of its reputation as an ethical company. It has clear values that match with my own personal views. It is a multinational company that gives back to society, while also allowing me to interact with many different cultures. GSK, as a company, has provided me with many opportunities to grow and develop.

The legal function at GSK has many different responsibilities, and there is no such thing as a ‘typical day’. In some cases, the legal function is the decision maker and in other cases, it is an advisor. But no matter what responsibility, we are always working closely with the business itself, to clearly define the framework we can navigate within. Legal has several interfaces: some are strictly legal to legal and others are more governance-led, where we design strategy implementation in a sustainable way. It is great to see legal acting as an actual stakeholder in the decision-making process, and certainly today we are finding that an in-house lawyer must also be a respected business partner.

I began to face challenges at the start of my career as a tax lawyer; at the time, it was a very male-dominated profession. I also rather interestingly found that there were barriers for young women without children. After applying for one particular role, I was told I was the perfect candidate, but that they required an assurance that I would not fall pregnant within the next five years. My answer was: thank you for the opportunity, but you are not the right company for me. Many women are expected to adapt their behaviour to get ahead, especially in male-dominated industries such as legal. I do not subscribe to this expectation. Rather than adapting, I would prefer to say that I have found my balance, and that I have learned to navigate my way through. When I first moved in-house, I found that I needed to work more than my male peers and do more in order to create a network, avoid misperception, and get ahead. This should not be the case. And I absolutely believe that one of the main challenges for women pursuing leadership roles within in-house counsel teams (and also, I suspect, in private practice) is finding that balance between their personal and professional lives. This is something men are not expected to consider as strongly as women.

“GSK in Brazil, we have made huge strides to address gender imbalance. Currently, 51% of our total staff is women, and 49% of our leadership positions are also occupied by women. ”

That said, at GSK in Brazil, we have made huge strides to address gender imbalance. Currently, 51% of our total staff is women, and 49% of our leadership positions are also occupied by women. This is due in part to specific programmes we have that focus on accelerating the pace at which women are promoted. The development programmes focus on helping female leaders enhance their leadership presence, inspire others, and plan their careers. Gender equality isn’t just a social concern; it’s good for business too. By understanding that gender diverse teams are more profitable and innovative, organisations can become more successful.

Mentoring is so important for aspiring young female lawyers. This is a relationship based on trust and respect, but I believe it’s not just beneficial for women. At GSK, alongside traditional mentoring, we also undertake reverse mentoring, which helps to change our viewpoint and create more self-awareness. Sharing diverse experiences helps to put things in the right perspective. I believe it’s also incredibly important to have male champions who are vocally and actively supportive of women’s issues, although I prefer to call them ‘human’ issues. For me, the more people speaking out loud in support of women, the better. In my career, I have had many male champions: they listened to me and paid attention, and respected my opinion. But it is a two-way street. The most important thing is to open the space for equal treatment.

I work hard to promote diversity and inclusion, not just specifically for women. I truly believe that we must embrace diversity as much as possible. When we combine our knowledge, experiences, and styles together, the impact is incredible. GSK aims to create a working environment where all employees feel included, respected, and valued for the unique qualities they bring, and are empowered to contribute to their full potential. As a woman in the legal industry, I believe that it is important to be you, to be curious, and to learn as much as you can while trusting yourself.