Women in tax leadership: Staking out a progressive path to partnership
Oleg Rak of Mason Rak discusses how global law firms and accountancy firms can use innovative gender equality initiatives to create a more progressive path to partnership for female leaders.
Professional services organisations across the globe have a long-standing tradition of male leaders dominating their top ranks. Upon conducting a series of interviews with key stakeholders and decision-makers internationally, it can be observed that while female tax professionals are hired as associates at the same rate as men, they are disproportionately underrepresented in partner positions.
From a global perspective, certain advanced jurisdictions are more progressive in terms of gender equality. Across the Middle East, patriarchal values and social norms keep gender parity alive, whereas territories across the Asia-Pacific region – particularly New Zealand and Singapore – have welcomed gender equality initiatives and promote women in tax leadership roles. Notwithstanding, female tax professionals across the globe believe they are required to “prove that they are equal to male tax practitioners in terms of technical and soft skills” in order to be promoted, according to the recent ITR’s ‘Women in Tax Leaders Poll’ 2020, which confirms there are still numerous barriers for female tax professionals.
In the last five years, there has been evidence of global law and accountancy firms promoting and actively hiring more female tax partners, following a major push to increase diversity in the upper echelons of their organisations. In addition, it can be observed that many firms ‘level up’ gender diversity in their leadership boards, for instance, KPMG’s 14-person UK executive board includes seven female partners from across the organisation. However, despite progress at senior levels, gender parity remains out of reach on an international scale and women continue to be underrepresented in the leadership ranks of professional services firms.
Through the utilisation of genuinely innovative gender equality initiatives and advances in global technology, a progressive path to partnership is becoming more attainable.
Networking made new
There is an implicit bias that makes it difficult for women to network with predominantly male clients in an increasingly competitive environment that emphasises client generation and retention. Although male and female tax partners are equally qualified, such interpersonal dynamics are integral to success.
Traditional networking, often occurring after hours in the form of pseudo-social events, is only one way to build clientele. Innovative law firms such as Dentons are moving towards more selective opportunities to meet with clients through remote communication channels or focus groups, which can occur during normal working hours. Such fundamental changes are imperative to the creation of a new path to partnership, as women with family obligations are much more likely to reach upper echelon positions if they have the ability to network remotely or during office hours.
Female tax leaders have also outlined a dramatic shift in the approach to tax consulting in recent years. Rather than simply producing deliverables, tax specialists are now required to partner with clients to co-create value. “With women generally being more collaborative on a personal level”, one said, “firms would need to have more female talent in the top to promote business growth.” Having completed strategic assignments to build truly diverse, world-class tax teams, it is impressive to witness the tremendous value that female partners are already bringing to professional services organisations across the globe.
Securing a position abroad allows tax professionals to step outside of their comfort zone and widen their strategic horizons. International exposure is particularly important for tax professionals seeking partnership potential.
The current climate stimulates globalisation, presenting an excellent opportunity for the successful servicing of clients remotely. This trend reflects a new era for the industry and an increased demand for tax professionals to service clients globally. This will help to simplify the process of relocation for women with family obligations, as client meetings migrate to virtual video conferences on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other remote communication channels.
As new tax talent dominates the ranks of leading firms, progressive mentoring initiatives ensure that male and female associates have equal access to shared knowledge and opportunity. Moreover, with millennials generally refusing to accept work-life imbalance, firms are forced to move away from old practices and promote a flexible working culture and innovative mentoring schemes.
It has been proven many times that leadership initiatives bring associates and partners together. Lynne Doughtie, the first female chairman and CEO of KPMG in the US, has cited female mentorship as a key component in creating confident female leaders. Strong female mentors nurture diverse tax talent.
Professional services organisations must learn to celebrate difference. A woman’s path to partnership may be longer than that of the average male candidate, but her experience and the network she has built along the way will undoubtedly provide value.
Mason Rak frequently supports global decision-makers in building gender equality initiatives and truly diverse, world-class tax teams. The unique market insight gained from these assignments demonstrates time and time again that professional services should clear the path to partnership, in turn benefiting from the strategic insights of senior female tax professionals globally.
If you would like to discuss how to build a truly diverse, world-class tax team, please contact the author.
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