We have a long-standing commitment to advancing inclusion & diversity (I&D), seeing as how it is essential to attracting, developing, inspiring, and retaining talented people. But more importantly, because we believe it is the right thing to do.

“Diversity is incredibly important to us”, says Sjoerd Meijer, one of NautaDutilh’s three board members, in a conversation with two colleagues of our offices in Belgium and Luxembourg. “It simply means that we recognise, embrace and value the differences between people, with the aim of creating an environment where everyone can bring their whole selves to work. And differences can be anything: from gender diversity, cultural diversity and LGBTQIA+ to neurodiversity. It really is all about corporate culture. Without inclusion, diversity cannot succeed.

While we believe we are on the right track, we also feel we can and want to do much more.
Sjoerd Meijer, managing partner

While we believe we are on the right track, we also feel we can and want to do much more. We conducted an I&D scan to take stock of our employees’ views. The results have led to a number of new initiatives, including small-group feedback sessions, known as daring dialogues, across the organisation, where we zoom in on topics such as behaviour, communication, equal treatment and opportunities, and a more explicit inclusion of I&D in the onboarding process for new colleagues.”

Diversity label
“Our reputation as a diverse and inclusive firm with good learning and development opportunities puts us in a better position to engage talented people”, comments Dirk Van Gerven, managing partner of NautaDutilh’s Brussels office. “It is essential for our firm and our profession to be creative. We need to avoid tunnel vision or wasting time with a pigeonholing mentality. We pay a lot of attention to this. Our efforts resulted in the Actiris’ Diversity Label, which our Brussels office was awarded again in 2024.

This label is a certification issued annually by the Brussels’ Ministry of Employment to employers who recognise, respect and value differences in the workplace. Every year we look at how we can make further progress. We have an internal Think I&D Committee that regularly makes suggestions. We can see that things are changing: even colleagues who used to challenge this topic are now making suggestions. To me, this shows that our corporate culture is changing and everyone wants to be part of this culture change. They take part in our conversations about typical behaviour and how to communicate effectively with people of different backgrounds and with different characteristics. As a result, they also share more of themselves. That helps to get things moving.”

CSR 2023

Seeing the whole person
“Luxembourg is definitely the most diverse office within NautaDutilh”, states Greet Wilkenhuysen, corporate partner at NautaDutilh Luxembourg. “Because our domestic labour market is relatively small, we also recruit colleagues from neighbouring and other countries. We have colleagues from Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland and beyond. On average, we have 10 to 15 nationalities in the office. We also score well in terms of gender diversity: of our nine partners, five are women. We think it is important to pay attention to diversity and find that both clients and colleagues appreciate working with or in a diverse team. I regularly get feedback that we are perceived in Luxembourg as a firm that really looks at the person behind the professional.

Generational diversity
The bond is particularly strong with and between people who have worked here for three years or more. Many of them live far away from their families and value personal contact with colleagues. We have a Happy Committee that initiates a variety of activities - from training sessions to lunches - and all colleagues can contribute ideas. In 2023, one of the activities was a training session for our partners to gain more insight into the impact and benefits of intergenerational diversity. We are a relatively small office with 80 colleagues, and we like to see our people taking the initiative and sharing ideas.”

Understanding each other
“An I&D policy should also include a focus on worklife balance”, Greet continues. “This is particularly challenging for colleagues with younger children. That is why we offer flexibility to our lawyers and business support professionals to work remotely, a possibility which they gladly make use of. If there are specific bottlenecks, we try to be pragmatic and work together to find a common solution.”

Sjoerd acknowledges this. “A good work-life balance contributes to health and well-being and therefore also to being a great professional. That is why we are taking a closer look at how we can make it easier for parents to combine a young family with a career. As part of our new young parents policy, we have introduced the Charly Cares babysitting service. This benefit is available to all colleagues with children up to the age of twelve.

Some people wonder if we really need to do this. We find that it helps a lot to understand each other better. Inclusion is about behaviour, values and ground rules. It’s about a way of working together and learning that enables everyone at the firm to reach their full potential. It also means dealing with contradictions and nuances. Not all partners are role models for our younger generation because they prioritise different values. That is fine, of course.”

Creating space
Having a conversation about diversity is not always easy, Dirk knows. “To achieve inclusion, it is crucial to be aware of stereotypes and prejudices. Whether we like it or not: everyone has them. So it’s up to all of us to create space for open conversations. It is not alright if someone is treated differently because of how they see things. It helps a lot to be open to talking about people’s histories and identities together. By having those kinds of conversations, you can soften potential sharp edges.”

It helps a lot to be open to talking about people’s histories and identities together.
Dirk Van Gerven, managing partner Brussels office

Taking part in activities together has proven to be a good way to get people talking. In Amsterdam, for example, colleagues organise an iftar to break the fast during Ramadan. Everyone is welcome, whether they observe Ramadan or not. Sharing a meal and learning about each other’s culture remains an excellent way to foster mutual respect and connection.

Looking ahead
What are the firm’s main I&D goals? Sjoerd: “By 2025, we want to achieve a gender balance at all senior levels, and 20 per cent cultural diversity across the organisation. A key focus is the advancement of colleagues from non-Western backgrounds. We also want to increase the number of female partners. This ratio is well balanced when you look at newly appointed partners and our talent pipeline. Our appointment policy reflects our ambitions.

Society is changing; you have to move with the times and be open to new opportunities. Sometimes this creates tension. This is not an area where you can sit back and watch the world go by. That’s why, in 2022, we appointed an I&D specialist to work alongside our two Inclusion partners. She has launched a three-year roadmap that allows us to build upon our existing I&D approach.

We focus on pillars such as inspiration and education, raising awareness, building community and developing greater cultural diversity. For example, we are exploring how we can make our recruitment and selection processes as unbiased as possible. We challenge ourselves by looking at how we currently select candidates and how we structure an interview. Our aim is to reduce our biases and select people based on their skills and abilities. This will prevent the exclusion of people who have a profile that is different from the norm we are used to.”

Cultural differences
Greet believes that “cultural differences are somehow reflected in how diversity is experienced across the firm’s various home jurisdictions. The focus can be different.” Colleagues in all offices are part of committees and working groups that are very engaged in advancing I&D within the firm. In the Netherlands, there is a strong focus on LGBTQIA+ diversity, spearheaded by the ND+ working group, on cultural diversity through the ND Growth working group and on neurodiversity through the ND Wired working group. The Belgian office has a Think Healthy Committee in addition to the Think Diversity Committee, and the Luxembourg office has its Happy Committee. “These are very active groups. Events such as the annual Women’s Event in London and our 2023 Summer Soirée in New York, which honoured women in M&A, also celebrate diversity”, says Sjoerd.

“Our firm does a lot to encourage our people to speak up and become better at listening and handling feedback. The way you do this has to fit the local culture”, says Dirk. “However, we should never feel uncomfortable discussing I&D. I also think it’s okay to be more proud of what we do well.” Greet agrees: “We could share our successes a bit more. Among ourselves and with our clients.”

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