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Tax Talent & Culture

Using belonging to navigate gender imbalances in local and global tax & accounting markets

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

How can tax & accounting firms better use concepts like "belonging" and "inclusion" to help guide women through the gender imbalances that still exist in the workplace?

Challenging norms is a key part to promoting the feelings of inclusion and belonging in the workplace. To start, individuals should ask themselves, “What does a leader look like?” and most seasoned professionals would probably envision a 40ish six-foot man in a suit.

More specifically, questioning established conventions around gender is a key part of increasing belonging and creating equitable outcomes for all genders. In fact, this is a priority for tax & accounting firm Baker Tilly, according to Shane Lloyd, the firm’s chief diversity officer.

Part of embedding belonging at work is changing perspectives on what work is appropriate across genders and breaking down the binary approach to gender. Through a traditional lens, this involves evaluating what tasks are appropriate for women and men at home and work.

To accomplish this, Baker Tilly’s approach includes leveraging the findings from Challenging Norms, a cross-geography research project from advisory firm Coqual. The project is designed to challenge societal norms around gender and caregiving in order to break down existing paradigms on what candidates need to do and commit to on the path to partnership.

Addressing nuances of women’s challenges

On a global scale, Coqual’s research found that there are still inequities and variabilities in the distribution of labor around office housework, especially as to who gets high-profile assignments that are measurable and support people’s ability to be promoted. The gender and equity dynamics around labor and workforce representation also connect to household chores and how many women, as they’ve even entered the workforce, have not had a reduction in the household chores that they have to take on as well. Caregiving expectations at the societal level also create unique burdens because the labor around caregiving is not equitable across all parties.

Key insights from the research emerged by country on how to increase gender representation at senior levels, including:

      • India — Caste-system dynamics played out as a major factor in barriers to workforce representation more often than gender. Women, who participated in the study were disproportionately from a higher caste, felt comfortable with their rates of advancement and compensation compared to their male peers. However, analyzing the findings through a caste lens indicated that nearly half of women in lower castes stated their class background often had a negative impact on their professional experience. More than half (55%) said that they often consider leaving their jobs.
      • Germany — One of the unique findings in Germany is that differences in people’s advancement opportunities varied based on national origin. It is illegal to collect race data because of the legacy of the Holocaust in how businesses and government used the information. Women not born in Germany faced bias from colleagues significantly more often, including assumptions that they these professionals are less credentialed and more junior than they really are. More than half (56%) of non-German women or women with multiple ethnic backgrounds were significantly more likely than those with two German parents to be passed over for promotions.
      • Japan — One of the unique features of Japanese culture is that women face cultural expectations to care for their children and elderly family members from their own and their partner’s family. To deal with this, Japanese women with career ambitions appear to prefer companies that are not headed by Japanese leaders with the hope that they will be able to work in a corporate culture that doesn’t carry the same stigma.

Recommended actions

Actions that workplaces can take to foster an increased a sense of belonging for women in key markets, according to Lloyd, include:

Understanding the scale and needs of your caregiving population — The burden for those workers who give care to children will differ from those who provide care to a dependent with a disability or an elderly parent. Understanding what type of caregiving in which your employees are involved will enable a more customized approach to a benefits package based on what life-stage an employee is in or entering.

Employing story-telling about work flexiblyExecutives and partners who share the fact that they are taking parental leave is one of the best ways to communicate through actions that it is permissible and acceptable for others to take full parental leave. Also, parents at all levels of the organization should communicate when they are leaving the office or logging off early to attend extracurricular activities for their children, which then provides informal ways to relate to junior employees that it is acceptable to work flexibly.

To increase the interest of those in the firm’s partnership, educate prospective partners about the path to partnership and how existing partners organize their caregiving and home lives to balance their obligations with operating their business.

Reframing the time horizon for life and career goals — Gen Z and younger millennials often have socially prescriptive ideas of when it is time to get married, buy a home, or have children. Most people expect that they should achieve all these things within a 10- to 15-year period. In reality, young professionals typically graduate from college at the age of 22 and then retire around the age of 65 — that means there are 43 years to consider in which to make major life decisions and achieve career goals. Expanding the paradigm of when it is acceptable to make these life decisions over a career-long time horizon rather than a more truncated timeframe one is another way to challenge societal norms.

Likewise, assumptions by managers and employers that an employee is less ambitious once they have kids need to be eliminated if the aperture for achieving life goals is going to be expanded. Indeed, one can have it all, but rarely is it all at the same time.

Lloyd says he lives by the philosophy that “belonging matters to everyone, everywhere” and challenging norms to achieve belonging within the workplace will increasingly emerge as important in achieving equitable outcomes for all genders.

More insights