Marjolein N.J. Van der Linden, General Counsel, RTL Nederland
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I started as a lawyer at one of the bigger law practice firms in the Netherlands, Nauta Dutilh, where I specialized in M&A. After 8 years, I joined Endemol, a television production company and became Head of Legal. Thereafter, Head of Legal at Avantium, a spin-off from Shell Chemicals and finally my current position at RTL.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
I am proud of the fact that my team and I managed to move upwards from ‘the end of the foodchain’ in our commercially driven, creative television environment. Although we are not quite there, we are more and more involved at the start of new projects and able to provide valuable input rather than trying to fix mistakes which could sometimes have been prevented.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
To bring added value to projects, be creative and work around legal obstacles rather than simply saying “no”.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I have balanced my work-life well. I work full-time and have organized my private life in such a way that a number of (time-consuming!) household chores are taken care of by others. It is quite costly, but well worth the effort. If I come home from work at night, dinner is prepared (by someone who cooks much better than me!), the house is cleaned and the laundry done. Therefore, I spend mostly quality time at home and even have time to do some (much needed) voluntary work in my neighbourhood and at the school.
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?
My role model is my mother, who always told me to be independent and be the best I could be in my field. She herself was not allowed to go to university and when she had her children, it was quite uncommon for women to keep working. She nevertheless kept working full-time (as a teacher) after having had three children and followed all the courses she could possibly take and made it to the school director. I never once had the feeling that she had problems in work-life balance. I had a great childhood. My mother simply didn’t complain and just very much enjoyed working and broadening her scope. However, she did tell me quite often that the most difficulties she had were with other (not working) women, who would judge her and think she was not a good mother. She also mentioned that she had the feeling that not a lot has changed over the years.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I never thought I would say this, but I think that the only initiative that will work will be quotas. Most females simply do not have the courage or nerve (risk adverse?) to present themselves as males do. I once attended a lecture by Professor Herminia Ibarra who explained (with scientific evidence) that this is typical female behaviour and will be difficult to change.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
As a female and also mother of four children, colleagues sometimes automatically discard the possibility that I have arranged my private life in such a way that I can also work on challenging projects, travel abroad and run the extra mile.
Once, when following a course at INSEAD, Fontainebleau, I was introduced by a classmate. After having thoroughly (and at length!) explained my professional achievements and ambitions and having only mentioned in a split second my number of offspring, he introduced me by saying “She has FOUR CHILDREN!” I had the feeling I was not taken seriously thereafter, despite my efforts and intellect. I now try to avoid mentioning my personal situation.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
When I started as a young lawyer 20 years ago, there were five female partners out of 135. None of these five had children or something remotely close to a personal life (or so it seemed like to us, young female lawyers). Part-time work was unheard of. The same firm now has 81 partners and is presided by a woman. However, not even 20% are women. In fact, the number of female partners is decreasing again. So, times are changing for the better but definitely not fast enough.