Q&A for International Women’s Day 2018 with Jane MacKay, Crowe Clark Whitehill
Brewer Morris is proud to be supporting International Women’s Day 2018. We have interviewed a selection of our female clients asking them how they are pressing forward for women’s gender parity #pressforprogress
Brewer Morris interviewed Jane MacKay, Head of Tax at national audit, tax and advisory firm, Crowe Clark Whitehill
If you had to start your career from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
By luck, I chose a specialism where there have always been many senior females and one in which it is relatively common to develop a career alongside bringing up a family, so, looking back at my younger self, I do not think I would change my career choices.
When I started working at a large firm in London, the culture was very different compared to what it is now; women still had to wear matching skirt suits (trousers were not permitted) and it was certainly more male dominated at senior levels than now. That said, I learned a lot, particularly from two partners, who gave me amazing career development opportunities and had a huge influence on me. I regularly quote them and pass on what I learned from them to my team today.
One of them took a risk on me and, when the senior manager left at short notice during a complex tax project the partners agreed to let me step up in his place. They made sure I quickly understood that our clients wanted me to find solutions.
As a result I learned about giving clients advice, and to this day on any client assignment I will always make sure my teams understand that we need to be able to tell our client what we recommend and why, and what action we suggest they take as a result of our advice. The other partner had a very detailed approach, which also helped me when I was starting out. He was insistent on properly preparing for all meetings and even once made me learn lines off by heart for a presentation so that I could demonstrate confidently my technical expertise. Now, I am very proud to be leading Crowe’s Tax team across the UK and hopefully I am now in a position where I am able to provide guidance and advice to those just starting out in their careers.
Motivation and Inspiration
The variety in my job on a day to day basis, the occasional mind-bending intellectual challenge that a tax specialism provides, and knowing that there is always something that can be improved are some of the things that keep me motivated. Above all it’s the many considerate, supportive and talented people, all with great senses of humour, that I work with that make coming to work a positive experience.
I think that inspiration is not necessarily something which you look for solely from above. I am regularly inspired by all of my colleagues, no matter their seniority and there is always something to learn from those you work with. In tax there is normally a right or wrong answer. While this can be satisfying, it also means that at some point in a tax career the chances are you’ll make a technical mistake. While mistakes happen, it’s about acknowledging them and how you put them right to give your clients confidence in your approach.
A tax partner (who was married to a surgeon) once said to me that no one ever died because of wrong tax advice and I try to remember that when work gets challenging, and when (thankfully rare) mistakes are made. I think that this is a piece of advice that would benefit all those working in our industry.
For those starting out, I think the main attributes that employers and colleagues value has not changed over time. A willingness to learn, work hard and support colleagues and clients will get someone just starting out far in their careers.
How is gender parity being achieved in your profession and what do you think needs to be done to press for progress?
Across the industry as a whole, we still have a lot to in terms of raising the profile of women, but things are certainly moving in the right direction. That said, if anyone thought that gender parity had nearly been achieved, then the ongoing publication of gender pay gaps makes a clear case for more action in this area.
Understanding that all of our colleagues and clients come from different backgrounds is vitally important in shaping our culture and how we want to present ourselves. Last year Crowe launched its ‘Women’s Empowerment Programme’, which has generated huge levels of support across the firm. A key aspect of it is to develop a flexible environment where everyone has the chance to succeed and is given the same opportunities. This involves, among many other things, creating networks and support mechanisms, such as mentoring programmes, which fit in with people’s work and home lives. But it is not just down to individual companies to tackle these disparities.
Women are still predominantly ‘the carers’ in wider society and there is a general acceptance that women may want to work flexibly. It is not yet as widely accepted for men. If women are to achieve parity at work, then we need to do more to support our men to be able to share the caring at home, without an adverse impact on their careers.
My top three skills (attributes really) to be successful in a tax career would be:
1) Curiosity – Asking questions beyond the one you have been asked; approaching a problem from different directions to make sure you’ve found the right solution, challenging the accepted answer to see if there is a different or better one.
2) Team work – Being the kind of person that other people trust and are happy to work with goes a very long way on internal project teams, and for building long-term client relationships.
3) Communication – Being able to convey the complex in terms that are understandable by different audiences is key to being a good tax advisor. The importance of the ’people’ element of what we do is often overlooked.
Finally, in terms of those that I admire in leadership roles, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is robust and unflappable in the way he delivers complex information and is also always courteous in his dealings with others. Outside of the ‘professional’ environment, Prue Leith impressed me on the ‘Bake Off’ by her insistence on high standards and her warm and honest approach to telling contestants that they had not met them. She also impressed me by her acknowledgement of her mistake when she tweeted the result too early…