Women are still less likely to reach the top levels of management – only 9% of the financial and professional services companies have female managing directors. While most of the international firms strive to have a better gender-balanced corporate culture, gender inequality still persists and because of it, women are filled with self-doubt to reaching their full potential. Lucy Franklin, a managing director of an international VAT compliance firm, was able to lead a traditionally male-dominated organisation successfully and she highlights in this article diversity and inclusivity as contributing factors to an organisation’s efficiency, and encourages women’s participation and representation that greatly affect the workforce’s overall success.
Women make up around half of the finance and professional services workforce. That’s about right, given that we are half of the population. But when you delve into the figures, the picture is a little different. In my experience, women are represented less, and less visible as you move up the ranks of an organisation.
In the main, women tend to dominate the support functions in finance and professional services industries. These are vital roles and the finance and professional services sector is a fantastic place to explore these careers, but these shouldn’t be the only doors open to women. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, while close on half of the all roles are filled by women in the Financial and Professional services sector, just 9% of companies have female MDs. This is startling and means that the sector is unrepresentative of its own workforce, and of wider society.
For the past two decades I’ve directed teams and led organisations within a range of sectors, and I’ve seen how talented, dedicated, capable, hardworking women are held back from reaching their full potential by self-doubt. So often women don’t believe in what they can achieve, don’t put themselves forward for senior roles that they could excel in, and are held back from the positions that could get them where they should ultimately be.
I took up the post of Managing Director of Accordance, an international VAT compliance and consultancy practice, at the beginning of this year. As a woman in a position of leadership in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I’m acutely aware of my role and its responsibilities. That’s not to say I’m in my post just to advocate for women – I run an organisation with 122 staff of different genders, identities, nationalities and ethnicities, and my role is to make sure that they are all fulfilled, excelling and developing as they wish to in their careers, while exceeding client expectations and boosting our business. But I personally and professionally identify with the struggle to ensure that women are not held back. I know that women can be anything they want to be, do anything they want to do, and aim as high as they like – if self-doubt doesn’t get in the way. It’s the unconscious aspects that hold women back that I’m committed to eradicating from my organisations and others within our arena, and it’s ultimately what led me to this role.
I in no way wish to diminish the structural reasons that contribute to workplace and societal inequality. A range of factors prevent women from progressing in the workplace that individuals alone cannot change – some are structural, some rest in maternity discrimination, some begin in our schooling and relate to the subjects girls and women tend to be encouraged towards. But as the MD of a team boasting several senior females in the financial and professional services practice, I can start affecting change from within.
Of course, by virtue of having a female MD in the first place, Accordance is already doing more to promote women than our competitors. But the job isn’t done until self-doubt has been banished and all employees are thriving. In short, this is my mission at Accordance. It’s about changing the culture in the workplace, encouraging people to believe in themselves and giving them opportunities to see where and how their skills could be boosted, better used or increased. This is not just lip service to vague ideas – I’m harnessing all the years of experience I’ve amassed, as well as that of my colleagues, to put into place a series of measures aimed at strengthening self-belief while giving my workers (of any gender) the chance to try new fields of work, to dip their toes into new activities and to challenge themselves.
For starters, we’ve put in place diversity and inclusion training, which is extremely important – but it isn’t enough. We’re also doing job shadowing, where people from different parts of the business – including myself – shadow other members of staff to understand what their role entails. We launched a Career Conversations initiative, to offer staff alignment and expectation setting meetings and career development plan assistance with trained ‘Career Coaches’. I’m holding regular MD breakfast sessions, in which staff from all areas of the organisation can ask me and other members of the Senior Management Team (SMT) about the vision and direction of the company. Alongside this, we’re putting in place the kind of flexible working practices which suit different people at different times in their lives – such as a trial of a four-day working week, flexible hours, and phased return.
Ultimately, if change is your objective, it is fundamental to have an overarching and inward look at the way things are done in an organisation. Everything from recruitment to promotion to training to day-to-day management has to be examined. It’s not just about doing the right thing, although that alone would be enough motive. There is also a business case for having more women in higher ranking positions. There is growing research to suggest that including and promoting staff across all spectrums, genders, generations, ethnicities, sexualities and disabilities will see revenues increase. Not only this, but recent research from PwC found that 85% state that an employer’s policy on diversity, equality, and inclusion was important when considering whether or not to work for them.
So, diversity is not just about doing things right, it’s also about attracting the best people, and about increasing revenues. The reasons abound, and yet progress is slow. I can’t change the whole sector, but I can radically reform my organisation. I want meaningful, lasting change to start with Accordance and ripple outwards to the rest of the sector. I admit that I’m starting from a strong base – we’re already a gender diverse organisation, bucking the industry trend and boasting 40% women on our Senior Management Team. Furthermore, our median Gender Pay Gap sits at -3.5, meaning that women are, on average, not paid less than men. But no organisation should ever rest on its laurels. This means ensuring that we are defined by a culture of collaboration and encouragement. It means being present for my employees, understanding their needs as individuals and finding ways to develop their skills in line with the objectives of the business. It means making sure that every single member of staff feels valued, can develop as they wish to, and crucially, that self-doubt is left at the door of Accordance.
About the Author
Lucy Franklin was appointed MD of Accordance at the beginning of 2019. She has a vision for Accordance which puts people at its heart – to harness its experts at every level of the business, enabling people to reach their potential, and facilitating business growth through their empowerment. With two decades of managerial experience, her strategic thinking and knowledge of the developing VAT landscape ensures that Accordance can drive greater trade, harmony and understanding across Europe.