Elaine Hutton, EU General Counsel, Bare Escentuals (part of the Shiseido group)
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since October 2011
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I studied French & German at university and after law school trained with and worked as a solicitor for Clifford Chance in London & Rome. I then joined leading UK broadcaster Channel 4 where I specialised in cutting-edge corporate and regulatory work before becoming Vice President of Legal & Business Affairs of the worldwide licensing division of FremantleMedia, the world’s largest TV production company. After three years at Fremantle, I decided to change industry sector and joined Apple where I enjoyed three very busy years advising Apple Retail (the world’s most successful retailer) on its Euro expansion. I then contracted as Senior Vice President of Paramount Pictures’ International Legal division before taking up my current role as EU GC of a cosmetics & skincare brand.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Gaining regulatory approval for Channel 4’s digital services (E4, FilmFour & Attheraces etc.) stands out – I literally started with a blank page and had to set out the business case for each service. Fortunately the regulator liked the end result.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is having to do a lot of hands on drafting while also being responsible for enforcing compliance procedures. I try to overcome this by reaching out to colleagues in the US regarding enforcement – it’s always better to work as part of a team than alone.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I have found it extremely difficult and have endeavoured to achieve this by eventually leaving jobs which weren’t working for me because they were – were likely to remain – significantly under resourced (ie. where I worked day and night every day and every night rather than merely during busy periods). I now sometimes turn my BlackBerry off during the weekend or late at night which really helps.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I have had several mentors throughout my career – it always helps to gain another’s perspective and insight into a particular problem.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Corporate diversity initiatives are a very good starting point, however I do think that companies should recruit for the job and pay what the job is worth rather than employing women on a lower salary than men – research shows that women’s earnings are around 20% less than those of their male counterparts – perhaps women just aren’t as aggressive/effective at negotiating their own salary packages. Nevertheless, if a company sets compensation on the basis of the successful candidate’s previous salary package, women are likely to continue to lag behind men in the earnings stakes.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Yes, it’s never good to be out of the business for an extended period of time (ie. over three months). Also, I found out that one company very nearly didn’t offer me the role because the MD was concerned that since I already had two children (which they found out by calling one of my former colleagues and asking), I might then go on to have a third… He was himself a father of four and turned out to be a terrific boss, however I almost never got the chance to find that out.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I believe that flexible working is becoming more widespread and accepted; however I still see few women making it to the top of the legal profession (ie. in-house, private practice, the judiciary, etc.) What a criminal waste of talent.