Comment

Differences divide us, and that’s why we need to find the values that unite us, writes Sinead Donovan. It strikes me that, in today’s world, we are constantly putting labels on things or people. We are either male/female, Gen Z/Gen Y, baby boomers, LGBT+/straight. We have the labels of our culture or our creed, and while I am so in favour of diversity, and have pushed the diversity and inclusion concept incredibly hard within my firm and throughout the work I have done in Chartered Accountants Ireland, I sometimes wonder – have we made too many labels? Are we defining ourselves by labels rather than looking for the commonality and the thread that keeps us all together?   It’s not a new concept but, as perhaps I progress in my career and through management, I sometimes think it’s better to look for what binds us together than at what differentiates us. Maybe by finding those common threads it will enable us to be a more holistic family together, despite our gender, culture, religion, or sexual orientation.  So, I suppose the big question is: are there common threads and, if so, what are they? To me, it comes down to people’s beliefs. Fundamentally, underpinning us all, as it does in our professional careers, are the value sets that define us. For us, in our business unit in Grant Thornton, we have identified those values as: Adaptable; Innovative; Passion for what we do; Collaborative; Going the extra mile; Ethical and professional; and Technically knowledgeable. People may have different values they use to identify themselves, but whatever it is, there should be that common link in us all. With Chartered Accountants, it has to be the value set of ethics. These underpin our profession, despite how wide it has become or the labels we have put on each other as accountants: are we forensic accountants, cybersecurity accountants, auditors, tax advisors? Whatever you are, the one item that underpins us all is our code of ethics.  Ethics is taught in the early days of a student’s profession, sits beside us as a professional, and maybe gets looked at once or twice in our career. However, I would urge that the concept of ethics is used more widely to link us together as one family of accountants – be that Chartered Accountants Ireland, ATI, or membership to any other accountancy body. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders, the people we report to, the people who use our knowledge, and the daily work that must be done in an ethical manner.  As a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee in Chartered Accountants Ireland, I am not saying any of the above to absolve ourselves of the need to identify the differences we all face in life. But what I am saying is, maybe sometimes, let’s just celebrate our similarities and, with that, see ourselves as a family of accountants in the first instance and then ensure any differences that we may have are 100% noted, understood, managed and included because, just as in any family, there are different characters, beliefs, and personalities. And, while there are going to be difficulties, there has to be that underlining acceptance of who we are and what we are. To me, it starts on the journey as a student and, I think, that our profession is more open than it may have been when I started. However, I do know that from our work in CA Support, difficulties, prejudice, and unbelievable stress which may not be acknowledged or identified, remain. So, look out for your student members, your newly qualified members, and even look out for the more experienced members who may be going through difficulties in their professional or personal lives. If I can leave you with one thought, let it be this: let us identify the differences, ensure those differences are respected and brought together in one bucket of inclusion. Importantly, we need to unite in our underlining similarities that we have as Chartered Accountants and use that as a thread to tie us together.   Sinead Donovan FCA is a Partner in Financial Accounting and Advisory Services at Grant Thornton.

Dec 03, 2019
News

Gender pay gap reporting is coming to Ireland. Sonya Boyce explains how you can prepare for this essential step towards gender pay parity. The gender pay gap is the difference between what is earned on average by women and men based on average gross hourly earnings of all paid employees – not just men and women doing the same job or with the same experience of working patterns. The Gender Pay Information Bill 2018 will be enacted in Ireland imminently. It will require mandatory gender pay gap reporting for public and private sector companies. This Bill follows a European trend where other countries, including Germany, France and Spain, have introduced similar legislation requiring organisations to publish information about the pay awarded to colleagues based on their gender. Such legislative developments have arisen in response to the fact that women in the EU are paid, on average, over 16% less per hour than men. In Ireland, the average gender pay gap is 13.9%. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 states that, if enough measures are not taken to address the gender pay gap, it will take 100 years to close the gap in the 106 countries included in the study. The big picture Gender pay gap (GPG) reporting is not just about equal pay; it is an initiative to introduce gender pay gap reporting as part of a wider initiative to address female participation and employment gaps between genders. GPG reporting is seen as the first step in addressing parity in the employment market in terms of gender, particularly at the management level. It is hoped that the introduction of GPG reporting will provide organisations with an incentive to develop female-focused strategies and initiatives to build greater representation in their workforce, not only from a gender perspective but across the broader spectrum of diversity and inclusion. Encouraging a diverse and inclusive workplace is proven to strengthen the culture internally and develops an employer brand of choice to retain and attract the talent needed. It also enables organisations to deal with any inequities they have and show stakeholders a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, says, “Inclusion inspires innovation”. Diverse teams are smarter, more likely to generate new product ideas and enter new markets. Preparation In advance of the upcoming legislation, I advise all organisations to undertake a few key steps. First, you should review the employee data you hold about your workplace population. This data will include payroll and human resource information. Once data has been compiled, organisations can calculate your gender pay gap. After that, it is essential to building a narrative to explain and provide background information on the gender pay gap figure within your organisation. This narrative also serves to reassure employees, potential employees and other stakeholders as to why a gender pay gap figure exists. Lastly, organisations should develop and communicate an action plan on how it will work to reduce the gender pay gap figure. By outlining and delivering an effective action plan, it will ensure all stakeholders remain motivated and there is no reputational damage to an organisation. The bottom line McKinsey 2018 research suggests that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Diversity and inclusion have a positive impact on the bottom line and profits, and GPG reporting is a critical and tangible metric that management can rely on to ensure that women are paid fairly, being considered for promotion and being promoted and attaining senior-level management positions. The introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting is an essential step towards ensuring gender parity and fairness about pay and progression. Sonya Boyce is a Senior Manager in HR Consulting in Mazars.

Sep 08, 2019
News

By Dawn Leane In their book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the men who think like them) Will Rule the Future, John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio found that, universally, people have grown frustrated by a world dominated by what they identify as traditional masculine thinking and behaviours: control, competition, aggression and black-and-white thinking. They believe these behaviours have contributed to many of the problems we face today.  There is also a business case for greater diversity. The EY Ireland 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Report, Time to change gear, suggests that 98% of respondents believe that an inclusive environment is vital for business performance. So why are businesses failing to make meaningful progress on gender diversity? The same survey identified that almost half the respondents favour regulation as a driver for creating more diverse and inclusive organisations while 79% say they favour regulation to address gender diversity on boards – perhaps suggesting that organisations are at a loss as to how to progress. While businesses struggle to make progress on gender diversity, are there lessons to be learned from how Rwanda reconstructed its society? The women of Rwanda In 1994, Rwanda suffered appalling genocide with over a million people killed, often by neighbours or other family members. In the wake this devastation, it was the women of Rwanda who rebuilt the country. They didn’t set out to create a movement; many had little or no formal education. Nevertheless, they organised and today Rwanda has the highest percentage of female representation in the world, with 61% of seats in the lower house and 39% of seats in the upper house, held by women. If, in the face of such adversity, these women could rebuild a country where every semblance of normality had disappeared, why are affluent, educated, first-world countries unable to engender change? Organisations approach diversity, and specifically gender diversity, intellectually. They try to solve the problem with rules, regulations and interventions designed to deliver quick results. The difficulty with this approach is that while it may change behaviours, it doesn’t change underlying attitudes. Rwandan women made progress in part due to the seismic cultural change they underwent in 1994. All the societal norms and behaviours vanished overnight. In such a landscape, all bets are off and a new culture must be defined. The women of Rwanda have solidified their position in the intervening years. If we consider gender equality as an issue of organisational culture and we accept that every organisation has its own unique culture, it follows that applying universal principles, like regulation, etc. simply won’t work and could even be counter-productive. Cultural change is notoriously difficult to effect. As the saying goes, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Cultural change takes years, not months. Meanwhile, over that time, more pressing business issues become a priority and, often in the face of slow or no progress, the initiative loses momentum, and staff lose trust and motivation. Adapting company culture My approach to diversity differs depending from one organisation to another. Change must take account of the company culture – not the culture the company espouses, but employees actual experience on the ground – if it is to have any chance of succeeding. Like Rwandan society, it must involve the very people who are impacted in both identifying the problem and developing the solution. In practical terms, that means doing things like asking the women who work in organisations about their experiences, as opposed to making broad assumptions and involving them in the solutions. I have worked with women employed in progressive organisations with very positive approaches to gender diversity, yet a particular line manager or other circumstances can negatively impact their experience. Successful cultural change requires a systematic approach and, in my experience, it is the sum of small sustainable changes that make the greatest impact on shifting the culture. To create a new paradigm, these changes must be consolidated and embedded in the organisation; it must become part of ‘how we do things around here’.   Dawn Leane is Principal Consultant at LeaneLeaders. 

Sep 14, 2018
Spotlight

Michele Connolly looks at the data behind the headlines about the gender pay gap and explains why reporting on such issues will force companies to act. The title of this article is an interesting one; it highlights from the outset that the issues underlying diversity and inclusion in the workplace are multifaceted. Likewise, the solutions are not necessarily always obvious. Take the issue of the gender pay gap. A report published last month indicated that, in 2015, Ireland had a 14.8% difference in median pay between men and women. That figure has declined steadily from 19.7% in 2000. However, statistics show it hit a low of 8.3% in 2012 before rising to 15.2% in 2014. Does this mean that a significant number of companies pay male counterparts more for doing the same job as women? Not necessarily. The statistics reflect an average salary across each gender in an organisation. To get a true picture, you must go behind the headlines and compare the results at different grades of staff, with different working arrangements and across different levels of experience. Take a typical director grade in practice. The reality is that there are still probably more men in that grade who have been in that position longer, who have more experience and therefore – on average – get paid more. There also tends to be a greater proportion of women in support grades in our organisations, which tend to command lower salaries. On an average basis, a higher number of women in lower paying support grades plays against a higher number of men in more senior, higher paid roles. The resulting statistic will show this simply as a pay gap. So yes, there is a pay gap. That is not discrimination; rather it is reflective of the fact that we have not yet succeeded in achieving better gender balance at more senior levels in our organisations. The real focus should be on how to address that issue. Gender pay gap reporting is coming Gender pay will feature in the UK media more and more as it introduces mandatory reporting on the gender pay gap for all companies with over 250 staff from 1 April 2017. The UK is following a growing trend across Europe, with many other countries boasting similar provisions. The resultant statistics are likely to show that, in headline terms, there is a pay gap. But when you adjust for some of the factors referred to above, such as experience, grades and working hours, the gap narrows considerably. One organisation that voluntarily reported its gender pay gap in the UK reduced the pay gap from mid-teens to less than 3% when adjusted for differing levels of experience. Consider the adage: “what gets measured gets managed”. This principle can apply equally to business situations. It can mean that simply examining an activity in turn changes the activity by forcing you to pay attention to it. It can also mean that producing measurements about the activity gives you a handle on it, a way to improve it. Knowing that they might ultimately have to report statistics should therefore cause organisations to examine their data sooner rather than later, analyse the differences and consider what they can do to improve the gender balance in senior leadership levels in the first place. What about the promotion question? Confidence is key to leadership and driving forward for advancement. Yet it is something that, on average, women struggle with throughout their careers more than men do. KPMG undertook a study to explore the qualities and experiences that contribute to women’s leadership and advancement in the workplace. The findings revealed that there is no shortage of ambition among the women surveyed. Six out of 10 aspired to be a senior leader of a company or an organisation, yet more than half agreed that they are more cautious in taking steps towards leadership roles. The results reveal a critical disconnect: women want to lead, but something is holding them back. Were the women encouraged to lead as children? Did they have a role model? Were they offered appropriate support and development opportunities in the workplace? Such factors play a possible role in whether a woman moves up the career ladder into a senior leadership role. There is plenty of research on the approach taken by males and females in pushing for promotion or a pay rise. Of the women surveyed by KPMG, over 75% did not feel confident in asking for access to senior leadership, a promotion or pursuing a job opportunity beyond their experience. Their male counterparts are unlikely to be as hesitant. There is an oft-cited example of two people looking at promotion criteria for a new role. The male candidate will look at the 10 items, believe he meets the criteria in three or four and go for the job. The female candidate will do likewise, believe she meets eight to nine criteria and not apply as she doesn’t meet all 10. It is not a case of one approach being better than the other. The average female brain simply works differently and approaches such matters in a different manner. However, the reality is that most performance appraisal or promotion systems are traditionally designed to target more male-dominated traits. It is therefore (unconsciously, in many instances) not a level playing field. Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist at Harvard University, in research for her book entitled What Works – Gender Equality by Design, has found that “companies that use potential, in addition to performance, as a way to evaluate employees are more likely to be gender-biased. We generally find that leadership is associated with men, and potential has something to do with career advancement and climbing up the career ladder. We don’t necessarily associate career and leadership with women”. What can we do to effect change? Many organisations are starting to tackle these differences by introducing unconscious bias training. This was first put forward as a concept by psychologists at Harvard University, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington who created ‘Project Implicit’ to develop hidden bias tests – also called implicit association tests, or IATs, in the academic world – to measure unconscious bias. IAT measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report, which would indicate that most of us are pre-programmed to associate certain roles and traits as either male or female. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science. Unconscious bias training simply seeks to raise participants’ awareness of these inherent biases in our thinking so we can start to challenge ourselves more and apply a gender lens (as opposed to positive discrimination) in how we approach performance appraisal, salary reviews, promotion discussions and job allocations to ensure they are appropriately gender balanced. Another key component in the toolkit for addressing gender diversity is mentoring. Whether you are a man or woman, having someone more senior in the organisation looking out for you, acting as a sounding board and being an advocate for you is invaluable in helping you develop the skills necessary to push for advancement to more senior leadership roles. So how do you get a mentor? The same KPMG study quoted above highlighted that nine in 10 women said they do not feel confident in asking for a sponsor and eight out of 10 lack confidence in seeking mentors. Implementing formal mentoring programmes and leadership development programmes aimed specifically at high-potential women in an organisation is an invaluable step on the road to changing the gender balance of an organisation. Is the gender balance improving? The number of females in management roles and at senior leadership levels in organisations is slowly but steadily increasing. The 30% Club’s recent Women in Management study with Dublin City University found that women now hold 40% of positions at the lowest level of management surveyed (three steps down from CEO) and 17% of CEO positions. The statistics do vary by sector and organisation size, with women more likely to feature in leadership roles in areas such as HR and marketing, and less so in finance, sales, operations or IT. Other recent statistics show that in 2015, Ireland had on average 18% female board representation. That is up from 10% 10 years ago and 16% in 2014. These findings are in line with a 2016 McKinsey study on women in the workplace. In 2011, the EU proposed that it would introduce legislation requiring all publicly quoted companies to have 40% representation of women on their boards by 2020. While the council of ministers has failed to get all member states to agree to enact the legislation, it has had an impact. In 2010, when the European Commission first put the issue of women in leadership positions high on the political agenda, only 11.9% of board members of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU were women. This rose significantly to over 21% in 2015. In the UK, the 2011 Davies review recommended that the FTSE 100 leading companies should have at least 25% female representation on their boards. Some investment managers are now mandating this among their investee companies and publicly saying they will vote against board appointments that do not contribute to meeting this objective. 26% of board positions in FTSE100 firms and 20.4% in FTSE250 firms are held by women. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE100 firms and just 15 all-male boards in the FTSE250 firms. Like the gender pay reporting, a policy initiative is causing organisations to take notice and act. However, there is still a very long way to go if we are to achieve gender balance. As a profession, what else can we do? We know that work/life balance is an increasingly key factor in career choices – at all levels and for both sexes. Initiatives such as intelligent working arrangements, ramp up and ramp down in career planning, and greater maternity supports all play a key role here. Space is too short to delve properly into this area on this occasion other than to say that most of us now work in a very mobile fashion. Does it matter whether we are sitting at a desk, on a train or in our own homes? Should the measure instead not be the quality of the output rather than the location from which it is delivered? However, it does challenge the status quo of the presenteeism concept that still pervades in many areas. As a country, we have made a lot of progress in the past few years. Yes, there is more to do. But by reporting and commenting on the issues, organisations are starting to put in place positive strategies to effect change. We are realising that not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense too. Michele Connolly FCA is Head of Corporate Finance at KPMG Ireland and a member of the Institute’s new Diversity Committee.

Apr 01, 2017
Spotlight

A lack of exposure is inhibiting the rise of talented women throughout the corporate world. Could sponsorship be the answer? Mark Fenton reports. We’ve heard the soundbites – gender pay equality is 170 years away; only 4.4% of S&P 500 CEOs are women; only 14% of Irish companies have either a female CEO or Head of Operations (and this ratio is diminishing). Meanwhile, an international report by Citi showed that closing the gender gap in labour market participation could add 12% to OECD gross domestic product (GDP). And yet there are many men (and some women) who believe gender equality in the workplace is a zero-sum game. For example, if women are to win, men must lose. Men often feel disengaged from the inequality problem too because issues relating to gender do not concern them. Further, when men do generally get involved, it is to ‘fix’ the problem by encouraging women to behave in the same way that men do in the workplace.With such a high socio-cultural mountain to climb, it is no wonder that progress has been painfully slow towards gender equality at work. Furthermore, the traditional talent programmes (most commonly packaged as ‘mentoring’) have not delivered the necessary results in terms of the recognition, professional development and career progression of women. Why is this, and what can be done to correct it? A mentor can empower a person to see a possible future and believe it can be obtained, but many mentoring programmes fail because the discussion surrounding such empowerment doesn’t generally apply in real life. As E.M. Forster put it, “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing except the shape of the spoon.” Mentoring is restrictive as it involves talking to just one individual and, more often than not, expectations are not met regarding mentee belief and mentee exposure. Exposure is the recipe; sponsorship provides the ingredients  Studies have shown that there are three principle levers to career success and their weighting is not as you might expect. One’s professional performance (i.e. how you do your job) is important. However, in modern businesses with sophisticated talent attraction techniques, it accounts for just 10%. After all, your company expects you to be excellent – that is why you were hired in the first place. More important is your professional image (i.e. how you present yourself in the workplace). Being assured, trustworthy and open to change is central to your success and this impacts on just under one-third of your success. Perhaps surprisingly, it is your exposure that holds the lion’s share of future opportunity and advancement. It is not what you know or indeed who you know. It is more about who knows you and what you can do. Historically, men have been expert at cultivating their exposure levels through informal and male-stereotypical networking environments. Conventionally, women have less flexibility (and perhaps desire) to embrace these traditions. They also remain more risk-aware of their abilities, whereas men are generally openly confident about their suitability for a new opportunity. In terms of exposure, sponsorship is more involved than mentoring regarding both the sponsor and sponsoree – both are accountable for the process and its outcomes. The best programmes last for at least 12 months, include job-shadowing, resilience-coaching and are supported by clear metrics. Sponsorship takes mentoring beyond the tandem partnership and into the boardroom and/or management meetings. Sponsors talk to and about their sponsorees and therefore increase their corporate exposure and can provide feedback on unseen opportunities for growth. Sponsors also benefit from the learning opportunity that comes with an intense, frank and extensive personal and professional interaction. Sponsorship’s immediate and impressive impact The impact of sponsorship can be immediate and impressive. A recent series of sponsorship programmes within a Euro Stoxx 50 firm doubled the ratio of women at the top layer of management in just two years and demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of senior female promotions were directly linked to participation in such programmes. Sponsorship is not about talking to me; it is talking about me. It is the key to unlocking the main obstacle to women’s career success – a lack of exposure. Mark Fenton FCA is founder of MASF Consulting, a specialist advisory firm focusing on diversity and inclusion.

Apr 01, 2017