As part of our commitment to expanded coverage and learning more about the markets we cover, we are providing the results of our latest Women in Tax Leaders Survey. We invited all the currently ranked Women in Tax Leaders to take part in the survey and provide feedback on their experiences working as a woman in the tax industry. This poll takes in views from jurisdicitions all over the planet and helps to build a picture of the current situation women working in tax.

 

Women in Tax Leaders Survey

 

Hidden Voices

As part of our Women in Tax Survey, we asked participants to provide anonymous feedback on some of the specific challenges they faced as a woman working in the tax industry. The responses came in from all over the world and show there are both shared experiences in every jurisdiction and unique challenges in many different places. Below is a selection of the different messages we received.

The hardest part of becoming a female leader was being strong and decisive without causing offence, because I was held to a higher standard than my male colleagues. Men would say I was unprofessional, lacking executive presence, or unable to control my emotions.

Partnership is like a marriage. If other partners do not like you, you will not become one of them. This is true even if you are indeed a very talented individual. This was a phrase from one of the partners, which really shocked me when I was a director on a partner's track.

Unfortunately, there is often an expectation that a tax practitioner may not come back after her maternity leave or that she will go on a second one shortly after coming back to work.

As a young tax partner, I was growing my family and went on maternity leave twice in four years. After each leave, I had to change my focus within tax and was asked by my firm to give up clients to others. Each time, I re-learned and re-built my practice. It was hard. I felt disadvantaged and preyed upon, for lack of a better word.

Considering that, and looking at my success today, it is the breadth of my experience that is sought out to lead clients and is undisputedly an asset for me now.

Today, I work with very large private clients and ultra-high-net worth families – some of the most eminent and sought-after clients. As a woman in tax, with my experience, I feel uniquely qualified to advise these clients. I am better positioned and take a different approach than my male counterparts. I see the whole family, the whole business and use my breadth of experience to advise and guide.

I consider the tax advisory area to be an excellent opportunity to value the professionalism, the experience, of all those people dedicated to this specialisation. Personally, I believe that people's knowledge is valued more, not giving rise to discrimination.

During many years as a female tax practitioner, I was not invited to meetings with clients and my name was not included in the legal opinions that I prepared for them. The male partner was the outshining one.

Later in my career and being a partner, co-head of the practice with another male, the males were the ones participating in the interviews with legal publications and also trying to stand out.

Finally, even when women make it to the top, and become partners, their firms are still managed at the very top level by man, and certain parameters on how to distribute earnings in many cases are more driven by masculine skills.

Many of the tax departments across law firms and the Big Four in my jurisdiction are male. The gap between genders is still a reality we need to face and fight against.

It is a business that for years has been dominated by men and opening opportunities has not been simple; because we as women, in addition to demonstrating technical mastery, have to impose our essence. Sometimes we are even asked to think like men, and that goes against our identity.

Women can be themselves – be heard, be seen and be respected.

Gender is not the real issue but the merit, and how this can be equally perceived and get recognition.

If there are nominations between male and female, they prefer males on most occasions.

It should be important that all the partners in an specific line-of-service can vote, and not just the leader. Men and women are equal so their work must be considered, and not the gender.

It is high time to women help their female colleagues to take the next step!

Other than the significant working hours especially during the busy season, which makes it difficult for female to work in tax, the tax industry has been an area where male and female have the same level of opportunity in pursuing their career.

Young female tax practitioners will especially face pressure to keep up a work-life balance when returning from maternity leave, especially when they cannot find support from family or social resources for caring for new babies. They tend to leave the industry during this special period to have a rest or take care of the family and child, but they'll then find themselves having difficulties to get back into the industry after those years.

There was a time when we could identify what was ‘girl tax’ and what was ‘boy tax’. Girl tax – estates, trusts, employment. Boy tax – M&A, capital markets. I am really proud that I have practiced ‘boy tax’ almost my entire career.

We have more and more women tax practitioners nowadays. The number is still not equal to men, but it increases. The biggest challenge for women practitioners is to balance their lives, especially at the time they enter into marriage and have a baby. In my jurisdiction, women contribute more to home life than men, watching the kids and running the home life smoothly.

I have met many bright women professionals working in industry, especially in the US, who have reached the number two position in their tax function. Very few have managed to reach the highest position. I hope more of them reach the senior-most position in future.

A woman’s path for gender equality in the tax industry (especially in law firms) is still long. There is a lack of support, mentorship and sponsorship.

I believe that a significant, but often forgotten, aspect is that women are more 'honest' and therefore less inclined to fully accept the typical advisor position that 'the client is always right' or that 'the advisor must always fix the client's problem'. Advisors are sometimes praised for being 'creative'; 'solution-oriented'; 'going above and beyond'. This is not the typical position of women – we simply do not accept that being a good advisor entails that it is necessary to work in the grey areas of the law, which is necessary to be credited for being 'creative' or 'solution-oriented'. Sometimes clients just need to be told that it is 'not possible', but this position often leaves us behind in competition to sign new clients.

There is a lack of interest to develop female practitioners in mid-sized tax companies. Female practitioners should actively seek challenges, professional recognition and promotion.

Women bring a different perspective in business, in particular in tax advisory as they are more open to different views and ideas.

It is not easy being judged only by men for every promotion, but it is great to see that women become more powerful over time. It is important as a woman to support and push talented women in their career!

I provide services to clients, and when I do so I can see the female tax lawyers that effectively promote other female talents when I observe their teams, and the way they behave. It is an honour to serve these women.

Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go until we have an equality of gender. The solving of the issue is being masked by the promotion of women in lower levels, which increases averages. However, at higher levels it is still obvious that the management is led by men (around 90%), which shows a real lack of interest by the companies in this matter. Maternity leave is still one of the aspects that (negatively) affects the promotion of women.

I feel that it is easier for smart, hard-working women to be successful in a field such as tax as compared to other areas, because ultimately clients and senior partners value tax people who are able to provide top-quality advice and analysis. Brain power really matters and will be rewarded. However, there are still challenges as often women do not have the same business development opportunities as men. This is changing though, too, as the number of women in business changes.

In addition to efforts of gender equality in tax opportunities and events, women should foster more and more female networking in the tax area, in such a way that a woman may contribute/generate opportunities/mentor other female tax practitioners.