Juergen Reul, general counsel, BMW

Juergen Reul is general counsel for BMW. He discusses how the German carmaker has moved beyond its Munich roots and why diversity is a key component of that growth.

Gender diversity

Gender is an obvious diversity issue for us as a company that primarily employs engineers, and therefore is not known as an employer of lots of women.

The whole company culture is an engineering culture, so in that respect we as a legal department have been the front-runner in gender diversity at BMW, as the law lends itself to a more diversified approach. The legal team first started to employ women over 35 years ago, and now 30% of our lawyers are women and over 30% of our management positions in the legal department are filled by women. For an engineering company, that is quite a lot. If I consider the legal department as a whole, including paralegals and specialist lawyers, we are over 50% women, making men like me the minority!

I think it’s changing gradually in Germany, and in car manufacturers, but we are certainly among the most gender diverse legal teams. Daimler has also had a gender diversity programme and has hired lots of women. Numbers apart, what one finds in the automotive industry is the need to have specialty skills, such as product liability, which need technical knowledge, and it’s harder to find women in those fields. Cars change in terms of what they do, so we need younger, ‘nerdy’, tech types of lawyer, and that can also be more of a male thing. It may be that we are looking at problems which go beyond law, into science and engineering, and how we get more women into those professions.

BMW as a company is generally working to try to make engineering more attractive to women, but it is very difficult as women still seem to choose other professions. When we talk about the future, 20% of students starting to study classic engineering are women, but the issue is them finishing. In electrical engineering it is fewer than 10%. I think it is really a perception issue that starts very early on.

We actively support programmes for young women. We have ‘girls’ days’ every year where girls in Munich schools are invited to have a look at typical ‘male’ engineering jobs. We are also working with universities on an intern programme to help women make a career in BMW, and female role models are obviously a very important component of this.

We now allow part-time work in the legal department, which we did not 20 years ago. We also have programmes to help women really reintegrate and phase in after maternity leave. This absolutely has helped to keep women lawyers – we have not lost a single lawyer following maternity leave. We have a very generous programme, developed by the German government but sponsored by us. German law allows maternity leave for six weeks before and eight weeks after the birth, with the opportunity for parental leave on top for up to three years following birth, with full job security. Leave in the first year is fully paid by employers up to a certain maximum, which in our case is about the same as a young lawyer would make after tax.

Age diversity

One of the areas that we as a company have been focusing on is age diversity. This is really about trying to have a balanced approach to age; for example, a few years ago we opened a new plant building electric cars outside of Leipzig. We made a point to have a diverse workforce age-wise, as we didn’t want the workforce aging at the same rhythm.

We hired a certain percentage of people who were fifty plus to have their expertise and experience, but we also made sure to hire a lot of people just out of school. In the legal team it is more challenging to do this, because if they come from outside our industry, they won’t have the necessary knowledge to start working. In legal we’re generally hiring people between 28-38, but we are trying to vary within that range. We have tools to measure age distribution, and I think a good distribution is necessary. An issue with senior lawyers is attrition, as people move to the business or other companies. Until now we have had about 30% stay until retirement.

Nationality initiatives

Here in Germany we do not have a huge amount of diversity in terms of nationalities, but we do have many who have studied abroad. 70% of our lawyers have studied for the New York bar or the English bar, or others. In terms of hiring other nationalities, it’s mainly an issue of language and the study requirements of the German bar. But we really are a company that has changed in the last 20 years; previously we were Bavarian, but now we are very international. We have plants in North Carolina, China, South Africa and Thailand, and here in Munich now we have people of 37 nationalities working at our headquarters.

Diversity and inclusion is certainly a strategic goal of the company and it is an aspect of the score-card for all managers: if we don’t meet targets on this it impacts our compensation.

I truly believe that in order to have a good team you need to have a diverse team, and I believe that the less homogeneous you are the better, as you can look at issues from different angles. I try to hire lawyers from different backgrounds, and not just from the same school. Diversity of experience is really key for a good team.