IWD2020: Lucy Orhnial

Author Matthew Gravelle
March 7, 2020

We proud to be supporting International Women’s Day 2020. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Whilst we all know that gender parity within the workplace has improved over the past decades, we all also know that there is still a long way to go.

We interviewed Lucy Orhnial, Partner & Head of Transaction Tax and PE at Grant Thornton UK LLP. 

#IWD2020  #EachforEqual

The theme for IWD2020 is #EachforEqual. Have you experienced gender stereotypes/gender bias in a professional context? If so, how have you been able to challenge this?

Having worked in the professional services industry for almost 15 years, it would be hard to say that I haven’t experienced gender bias in a number of shapes and forms. I’m ashamed to say that, in the early stages of my career, I wasn’t very good at recognising or challenging gender bias. 

These days, especially given my role, it is my responsibility to challenge it openly; conscious and unconscious gender bias cannot be tolerated professionally, politically, socially or economically. I try to do so by having an open dialogue where I see it happening, and ensuring internally that certain behaviours are recognised and acknowledged. 

What does equality in the workplace look like for you?

To me, equality means equal opportunity no matter what your background – gender or otherwise. Maybe controversially, I don’t believe in quotas or targets that promise a certain number of females on a board / in a room – at least not without a realistic plan of how a business is going to achieve this sustainably.

Equality is a movement that doesn’t happen overnight – employers need to invest in identifying and nurturing potential, educate people on unconscious bias and ensure as leaders that everybody is provided equal opportunities and access to learning and development. This, with enough commitment and focus, will naturally create a pool of diverse candidates, all equally able to fulfil the senior positions that have historically been kept with a small, mostly unrepresentative section of society.

If you mentor professionals at the early stages of their careers, do they/have they encountered different equality issues than you experienced at the same stage in your career? What changes have you seen? 

Over the years, I have mentored people informally as they progress to more senior positions. There is a different kind of equality bias to what I “grew up” with, however I do think that diversity is now recognised, quite rightly, to have a significantly wider definition than in the past.

Most importantly to me I have been provided the opportunity to mentor my team and drive the values I feel passionate about. I am lucky enough to have a diverse, ambitious and dynamic team to support me day to day. Focusing specifically on females (it is IWD after all!), my role has allowed me to coach and mentor some extremely talented junior females through their career. Watching them grow and succeed, both within and outside the firm, has always been one of the most fulfilling parts of what I do. 

There has been a significant change in the way that diversity is being talked about. People are more open and are engaging in active dialogue on topics that just weren’t talked about when I was coming through – mental health, cultural differences, understanding peoples’ religions and backgrounds. Whilst it’s a long way from being perfect, it feels like a much more inclusive environment and that people at all levels are open to learning and understanding what makes other people tick.

One thing that I have welcomed at GT is that our partners are encouraged to join a reverse mentoring programme, essentially being mentored by more junior employees of the firm from different backgrounds. I am being mentored by an Associate in our firm – we have our first session in a couple of weeks. This is very much outside my comfort zone! However I do expect it to give me a different perspective that will allow me to make more considered decisions in the future.

How do you think parental leave should be approached in 2020?

Flexibly, without assumption and without judgement. We can’t assume that everyone lives the “traditional” model anymore, and need to be prepared to have conversations with people early on to understand what they need and care about. Shared parental leave is a good step towards this but we can go much further.

Do you feel social media has influenced a positive shift change for female leadership?

Definitely – there is so much more awareness of and openness in the gender debate these days. People are not only actively calling out behaviours that need changing (Jamila Jamil is just one very good example of this), we’re also publicly celebrating diversity and inclusion at senior level – WeAreTheCity is a great example of this, who use their Rising Star awards to celebrate and support the UK’s female talent pipeline. 

What have you or your business implemented to achieve positive changes for an equal workforce?

Our new(ish) CEO has set a clear strategy on diversity and inclusion. It is focused on educating leadership and holding them accountable, ensuring that the firm has everyday inclusion at its core and providing our teams with the opportunity to engage on diversity and inclusion. 

The latter includes stronger internal networks, more frequent internal and external diversity events (including for IWD 2020!) and – specifically on the gender strand – a considered return to work programme. We are also working on an initiative that will seek to capture and enhance the potential of high performing female candidates to support them through their journey to leadership. Part of this is around regular dialogue and mentoring by senior females, which I have signed up for and am very excited about. 

Is there a business that you admire for their positive approach to an equal workforce? If so, who and why?

There are plenty of businesses who are making the right changes. However Brainlabs Is one that stood out to me personally – when they identified that their gender pay gap was almost 9% a couple of years ago, they made the bold move to put it to the vote and ultimately increased pay for their female employees to align them with male employees. That was a very brave step and has hopefully challenged other businesses to eventually do something similar.

Please note that all commentary and opinions provided are those of the individual, and not the organisation/company they are employed by.