VISA Europe’s deputy general counsel and company secretary Prini Pithouse talks to The Lawyer about reaching the right balance between work and home life, the advantages and disadvantages of online board meetings and promoting inclusion and diversity in a virtual environment.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of working remotely that we just should not lose going forward?

The benefits for me are largely in being able to have a more balanced blend between work and home life (whether that involves a busy family or ensuring I have downtime or exercise) but also because I am more efficient and more effective as a result.  Going forwards, we should ensure that we learn from this experience, know when to switch off, and preserve the progress we have made towards truly working flexibly.  That is not to say that there is no value in face to face interaction, and we can now be clearer on when it is essential, and how we balance remote and office work, as there is a place for both.  We will all need to recognise the ongoing need to improve and adapt in the short and longer term as we think through how we will work in the future.  There is no one right way, and flexibility will involve the need to adapt to working across different locations with some participants in the room physically and others virtually, and that will drive new challenges as we work to ensure that we are inclusive to virtual and physical participants alike.

Prini Pithouse

In your role, you are also the Company Secretary. Are there any advantages to having virtual board meetings as opposed to face to face ones?

There are advantages and disadvantages, but this year we have proved that it is possible to continue to maintain good governance in the virtual environment, which is a key positive.  No one needs to travel, which is another plus, saving on cost and our impact to the environment, however it does bring the additional challenge of managing around time zones when you have Board members and presenters based in different countries.  Despite this, Board meetings in the virtual environment have worked well, using video conferencing, and adapting for example to being very vigilant to look for visual signs from speakers and Directors, which are not as easy to pick up in the virtual environment.  The downside of course is that we miss the face to face interaction and human element that this brings both inside but importantly also outside the Board room, where relationship building is a foundation for discussion and decision-making in formal meetings.  I also miss the close working relationship and one to one interaction face to face with our Chair, and other Directors, which we have adapted to the virtual environment, but it just isn’t quite as rewarding over video.

You are involved in Diversity initiatives at Visa and beyond. Could you tell us more about the importance of these initiatives, particularly during these times of remote working, and the areas you are focussing on?  

We have a continuing challenge to make sure that we gain traction and make a difference in a practical way to promote inclusion and diversity.  This is particularly true in the virtual environment. Minority employees, especially those starting out their careers, will not have the benefit of meeting mentors in hallways, meetings, etc. We will have to be much more mindful as leaders to ensure we make connections and are attune to the challenges of minority employees. At Visa, I’ve joined a group that will be launching an exciting new initiative for women of colour, which for obvious reasons appeals to me.  Intersectionality and specifically the intersection of managing a career both as a woman and being from a minority background, brings unique and different challenges.  We are excited to be taking this to a broader audience, outside of Visa and within the payments sector, so watch this space!  We’re focussed particularly on raising awareness, showcasing role models and building allies, particularly with the support of men.  On that last point, I do think consolidating allyship will be a key factor for success going forwards, and we’re looking at how we can support that, bust some myths and also give some real practical ideas and support on what it means to be a successful ally.  I’m all for finding real ways to push the agenda forward, however local or seemingly small. For instance, I am proud to support fathers in taking shared parental leave, so that we can support a more shared approach to parenting from the outset, allowing fathers a more involved role but hopefully also unlocking equality of opportunity in the workplace in future.

What do you like most about being a lawyer?

I enjoy making a difference to the business and being part of a team that drives change.  Whether that is in supporting governance at Board level, or supporting new business initiatives, it is no longer the case that lawyers are only an input but rather we provide an integral piece of the decision-making puzzle.  That is far more interesting to me than staying on the side-lines or advising from an ivory tower.  I also enjoy the fact that I work with some incredible people from whom I continue to learn, not least this year as we have faced new challenges together.