Women in Sustainability series: Meet Rosemary Martin

Rosemary Martin has been Vodafone’s Group General Counsel and Company Secretary since 2010. She previously served as CEO of the Practical Law Group, having spent 11 years with Reuters Group Plc, with the last five years as Group General Counsel and Company Secretary.

Before joining Reuters, Rosemary was a partner with Rowe & Maw (now Mayer Brown). She was a Non-Executive Director of HSBC Bank Plc (the European arm of HSBC Group) until April 2016 and a Non-Executive Director of EY until August 2018.

Rosemary spends roughly a third of her time working on board matters, on the company secretarial side, alongside the executive committee; a third on legal issues that arise around the business; and a third on leading the function and managing Vodafone’s 500-strong global legal team.

Here, she explains how her longstanding passion for sustainability has led her to use her position to influence and encourage other organisations to make bold commitments on climate change.

The law can play an important role in the fight against climate change

Change happens when laws are made. When the science first came out around climate change, it was translated into policies and laws that governments signed up to. As soon as you have laws, you have an opportunity to hold people to account.

In sustainability, one of the most powerful things a lawyer can do is translate from science to society: educating citizens and influencing their behaviour to protect the planet.

But there are so many other ways that lawyers can play a part - from using contracts to create chains of accountability, to suing governments and calling out companies that are not meeting their obligations. As in-house lawyers, we help our colleagues understand what our legal responsibilities are, so they can work out how we meet our commitments.

Make your voice heard, and spread your message widely

Companies like ours have a powerful ability to influence other organisations. As Vodafone's General Counsel, I’m trying to raise the volume on conversations about climate change, within Vodafone and externally, particularly amongst the legal community.

But it’s not always easy to have your voice heard. If you’re struggling to do so, my advice would be to hone your message – make it as simple as you can – and keep driving it home. Amend it as you go, if you see it's not landing right, and keep talking – don't give up.

Try to light a fire – or lots of little fires in lots of places. The more people are talking about an issue, the more it will begin to bubble up. Try to get a mass of people talking about it. Talk to your friends and colleagues about your ideas, and use social media to put them out there in as many different forms as you can.

Make it funny, if you can. Don't be aggressive; it frightens some people. And if you're finding it hard to get your point across in your own organisation, think about other channels to use, whether it's through your professional body or through acquaintances outside work. Eventually, it'll come back around and influence your organisation.

I find that by seeding your ideas widely, flowers will bloom in unexpected places. You can influence people in ways you were not expecting.  I have sometimes scattered the seed of an idea somewhere and it has suddenly bloomed when someone else picked it up and ran with it.

Having diverse experiences in your career can be a huge advantage

When I first started my career, it was normal to go straight into a law firm and work your way up. But nowadays people tend to move around more between roles, sectors, organisations and countries. By staying in one place, there is a risk you end up with a narrow view of what's possible, because your horizons are limited by the world that you're in.

Having many different experiences helps you expand your knowledge. You might be doing the same job, but in a different country, and learning a huge amount about its culture. The more we learn, the more we can make an impact and improve people’s lives.

 Wherever your career takes you, it’s so important to be kind, and to treat people with respect. And that doesn’t mean you have to be soft. I’ve met some very influential people who are incredibly kind and empathetic – but that doesn’t mean they are shrinking violets. It's about being yourself, letting your personality shine through, and being someone who people want to work with.

Sustainability is about creating a better future for the next generation

I love the law – even after working with it for such a long time. It's a hidden, but powerful, part of society. And I feel passionately that we as lawyers must play our part in fighting climate change.

We're all human beings, and we need to find a way to continue living on this planet together. We need to reflect on what we can personally do to give the next generation a better future.

Rosemary Martin about women in sustainability.