Women in Tax Leadership: A Progressive Path to Partnership
Professional services organisations all over the world have a long-standing tradition of male leaders dominating their top ranks. After conducting interviews with key stakeholders and decision-makers internationally, we at Mason Rak observe that while female tax professionals are hired as associates at the same rate as men, they are underrepresented in partner positions.
Some jurisdictions are more progressive than others in terms of gender equality. Across the Middle East, patriarchal values and social norms keep gender parity alive, whereas territories across Asia-Pacific – particularly New Zealand and Singapore – have welcomed gender equality initiatives and promote women in tax leadership roles.
In recent years, we have witnessed first-hand the global increase in law and accountancy firms hiring female tax partners. This is all part of a major push to increase the diversity of their top ranks. Moreover, I have observed many firms ‘level up’ gender diversity in their leadership boards. KPMG’s 14-person UK executive board includes seven female partners from across the organisation, and is a key example of this. Although there has been undeniable progress made, gender equality remains out of reach on an international scale and women continue to be underrepresented in the leadership ranks of professional services firms.
Through innovative gender equality initiatives and advances in global technology, a progressive path to partnership is becoming more attainable.
In an increasingly competitive environment that emphasises client generation and retention, women are inherently at a disadvantage. High-ranking tax professionals are expected to network with predominantly male clients. Although male and female tax partners are equally qualified, such interpersonal dynamics are integral to success.
Often, traditional forms of networking occur after hours at pseudo-social events. This, however, 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. In the formation of a new path to partnership, fundamental changes such as this are vital. Women with family obligations are much more likely to reach upper echelon positions if they have the option 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, I am impressed to witness the tremendous value that female partners are already bringing to professional services organisations across the globe.
International experience is particularly important for tax professionals seeking partnership potential. By retaining a position abroad, tax professionals are able to push themselves outside their comfort zones, widening strategic horizons.
The current climate stimulates globalisation, presenting an excellent opportunity for the successful servicing of clients remotely. This trend shows an increase in demand for tax professionals to service clients remotely, and it speaks of a new digital era for the industry. With client meetings migrating to virtual video conferences on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other remote communication channels, the process of relocation for women with family obligations is revolutionised.
Innovative, dynamic mentoring initiatives ensure that male and female associates have equal access to shared knowledge and opportunity. Firms have been forced to move away from old practices, now promoting flexible working culture and mentoring schemes, as millennials generally refuse to accept work-life imbalance.
Time and time again, it has been proven that mentorship schemes work, as they 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. At Mason Rak we frequently support global decision-makers in building gender equality initiatives and truly diverse, world-class tax teams. The unique market insight I gain 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