Nassib Abou-Khalil | Chief Legal Officer | Nokia

Many businesses have a diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy, but at Nokia, we prefer to think of inclusion & diversity.

Many businesses have a diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy, but at Nokia, we prefer to think of inclusion & diversity. Inclusion is the foundation upon which diversity flourishes in an organisation. An environment where people feel they can be themselves and contribute to the best of their abilities is the surest way to attract more diverse candidates.

As Chief Legal Officer, I believe inclusion is fundamental. The first step is to ensure  people feel part of the team, to make them feel that they are valued, that they can contribute, that they can feel safe being who they are, and that they can bring the best of themselves to Nokia. If you don’t have that foundational belief in inclusion then diversity is just a statistic, and statistics without impact are meaningless.. Creating a safe space where our people  in every part of the organisation feel that they have a real chance to progress and be included is essential in encouraging diversity.

When I first took on the role of Chief Legal Officer, I’m sure everyone expected that I would appoint someone from my leadership team into one of the key roles in my organisation. Much to everybody’s surprise, I hired a person from elsewhere in the organisation. She joined my leadership team and created such a positive reaction in the team that when there next were open positions, the number of applications multiplied, and I had people from every part of the organisation apply. That sort of open environment encourages people to step up, apply for jobs and become more visible in the organisation by taking leadership roles.

Legal teams can be hugely influential in setting the inclusion and diversity agenda. The role we play in our companies, our influence, our ability to drive decisions, and the fact that we are involved in many discussions and embedded in the business in a significant way means we are uniquely positioned to influence the wider culture.

Coming Out for I&D

Corporate diversity initiatives are a journey that typically starts with tackling a particular issue, for example, improving gender diversity, before gradually broadening out to look at ethnic and racial minorities, people with disabilities, age gap issues, and other forms of diversity. I happen to be interested in all aspects of diversity, but being gay = I was keen on advancing I&D at Nokia to include our LGBT+ communities. One example of this work has been helping the Nokia LGBT+ employee resource group to launch the OUT Leaders programme. By stepping up as an ‘out’ leader and making myself visible within the organisation, I am helping to draw attention to the fact that you can be your authentic self and be included at Nokia. Shortly after we launched the initiative, I was appointed as Chief Legal Officer, which I see as a very positive message for both our leadership and the company.

However, I wanted the programme to become more than just one leader stepping out and speaking up. In the second phase of the programme, which we launched last November, we look at bringing something positive and giving opportunities to our leaders at Nokia by focusing on development, providing mentorship and networking opportunities, and creating the opportunity to design, develop and implement a project that will be sponsored by one of Nokia’s global leaders. Members of Nokia’s LGBT+ communities will join with external and internal people from our customer network, suppliers, the recruitment community, and some of our own senior figures to speak about what it means to be an ‘out’ leader and to develop your career. Hopefully, this will help the participants build their leadership skills and provide them with a mentorship opportunity from a senior leader in the organisation who will support them to develop and grow. It will also give them an opportunity to be visible in the organisation by profiling them in our internal communications, giving them an opportunity to develop and implement this project further.

Nassib Abou-Khalil | Nokia

As the project matures, it is moving from an aspirational idea to something that truly gives people in the LGBT+ community the tools and platform to succeed, to learn how to be a role model and to inspire others within Nokia. We want to cement the atmosphere that Nokia is an employer of choice for the LGBT+ community, that this community is encouraged to thrive within Nokia, and that Nokia takes the development of the LGBT+ community seriously.

I feel a responsibility toward the LGBT+ community. I have been fortunate enough to be successful in my career, but I also have lived some of the challenges that many LGBT+ people face, such as coming out in the workplace, to your family, to your friends. Granted, times have changed, and things have developed, but they haven’t changed that much. The struggles are still there. Things have improved, but we cannot speak of absolute equality. And when we look at the global workplace, I am even less sure that we have reason to be complacent. I felt a sense of duty and a sense of responsibility to be active in the LGBT+ space. That said, our LGBT+ initiatives are important for everyone. I want everybody in my team to feel that they can be their authentic self and contribute to their fullest capacity when they are contributing to the success of Nokia.

Going global

Businesses in Europe, and especially in the US, tend to have more I&D infrastructure. There are certainly more organisations – the likes of Diversity Lab and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association – to help advance the conversation. Typically, the major initiatives have been entirely focused on US companies, or the US offices of multinationals. The next step is to make sure we have truly global initiatives that acknowledge the different conversations happening at a local level. As a result, we are looking to work with Diversity Lab and pilot the Mansfield Rules 2.0 that can be measured based on our global operations. This will help us develop the playbook for this certification that applies to global businesses.

A year ago, we were the first multinational with a global presence to join the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. We are working to take some of our initiatives and export them outside the US, bringing them alive in a much more global scene. As with many of our initiatives, the objective is to partner with thought leaders, take established policies and frameworks, and see how we can work together to extend their reach.

Of course, this also applies to how we work with law firms. Given that we look at I&D from an inside-out perspective, I will be re-evaluating how we work with outside counsel and our panel firms. In my role as Chief Legal Officer, the immediate step for me is to develop measurable criteria that we expect our outside counsel to implement when they are working with us, and these will be around inclusion and diversity. We are thinking very hard about what exactly we will ask our law firms to do, and how we can measure it. Our aspiration is not just to talk about things, but to do things.

I am deeply grateful to both the MCCA and Diversity Lab for their support and partnership with Nokia and to the entire Nokia Legal and Compliance team for believing in and being committed to our I&D initiatives.