This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is to Embrace Equity. What this means, in essence, is demonstrating equity in the workplace instead of simply talking about it. The International Women’s Day organisation states that, “A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA”. In other words, it’s not an additional benefit but an essential part of society and in the workplace. But what does this mean in practice, and how does this look in the accounting industry and within Mercer & Hole?
While a roughly equal number of male and female junior accountants have entered the profession over the last 10 years, this hasn’t translated into senior leadership positions, yet. Statistics gathered from the 2020 Accountancy Age “Top 50+50” survey show that while nearly half of all qualified accountants were female (45.47 percent), just one-fifth of senior roles within the sector was occupied by women. Firms talk about equal opportunities but there are many factors that play into this figure including societal expectations, employer policies and the availability of childcare, all of which can affect women’s career trajectories.
Here at Mercer & Hole, we don’t just want to talk about equal opportunities and ensuring that we hire a good balance of men and women to support our clients. We believe that all employees should be able to enjoy a healthy work/life balance and to fulfil their different roles in other aspects of their life. Currently 38% of our Partners are women, with high percentages for other senior management positions. Whilst Mercer & Hole has one of the highest female partner ratios in the Top 50, we are committed to further closing the gap between these figures as we go forward.
We also recognise that this will look different for individual employees as we understand the difference between equity and equality. The latter means that each individual or group are given the same resources or opportunities, whereas equity recognises that each individual has different circumstances and needs and may need specific resources and opportunities to reach an equal outcome. Just as we tailor the advice we give our clients; we recognise that we need to be flexible around our employees’ individual circumstances and obligations.
Private Client Partner, Alice Pearson was made a Partner in October 2022 and is also a mother to two young children. She says, “I am ambitious, but I would never have sacrificed being a mum for a successful career. Fortunately, Mercer & Hole has never made me choose. We have a culture that is understanding of the demands faced by working mums, which enables women to thrive.” Nevena Ivanova, Payroll Manager agrees: “I joined the firm less than a year ago and can say that, here, you have the opportunity to develop and progress further regardless of your gender or your personal circumstances.”
We also recognise how important it is to be flexible to enable women who take time off to have children to return to work in a manner that suits them, so that they can continue to thrive and work up the career ladder and this can look quite different depending on personal circumstances.
Alice Pearson spent two years on maternity leave over the last five years but says she has never been made to feel this would hinder her career within the firm: “I was promoted to Director while on maternity leave, which gave me further reassurance that I was still on the right track.” Furthermore, Mercer & Hole’s agile working policy has enabled Alice to juggle both her job and her two young children: “On the days I am working from home, I am able to swap commuting time for quality time with my kids, which is very precious. On the days I am in the office, I prefer to get in early and then leave by 5pm to get home for the kids’ bath and bedtime.”
Here at Mercer & Hole, equity really means creating an inclusive environment for all our employees. Forging gender equity in the workplace isn’t limited to women, but something which is valued and embraced across the entire firm. Providing generous parental leave and flexible working options is just one aspect of our commitment.
We recognise that regardless of gender, all employees should be able to work flexibly around childcare commitments. Ross Lane, Audit and Business Advisory Partner and sits on the firm’s management committee, feels that the working arrangements during the pandemic helped to change attitudes to fathers being more involved with childcare, “We have moved on in terms of our perception of what our working week looks like and I now put in my diary the days I need to drop my children at school and nursery and that I’ll be in later on those days. I look forward to making school drop-off my first thing to do on a Monday morning, it’s a wholesome way to start, what is always, a busy working week and helps ease the transition from the weekend back to work and school for the whole family.”
Another key aspect of a supportive and flexible approach is trust. This is another important lesson we have learnt from our experience of working remotely throughout lockdown. Colleagues feel confident they are trusted and supported by their team and line managers to work flexibly at home and across different sites where necessary, made easier by our improvement of technology, particularly, for online meetings.
Andrew Dean, Audit and Business Advisory Director at Mercer & Hole, has found the flexibility and support of the firm to be helpful in managing to juggle the demands of having a child and that he is trusted to organise his time. “Before having a child, I had no idea of the amount of juggling that would be required – the pick-ups, drop-offs, illnesses at short notice, trips to the GP, nursery closures and so on! Working for a firm that makes that so much easier takes a lot of stress out of it! I can finish on time in the knowledge that nobody is looking over my shoulder applying pressure to stay late or work additional hours.”
Fatima Hussain, Assistant Manager in Outsourcing echoes this and makes the comparison with her previous job: “The agile working approach at Mercer & Hole has helped me a lot. Now, I look forward to work every day; I feel calmer and more focused on my work now and I have more time quality time to spend with my family. I am very proud to be part of Mercer & Hole team.”
Another characteristic of a supportive work environment is a benefits package that can make all the difference to providing a workplace where women can thrive. Nevena says: “Mercer & Hole also provides health benefits for their employees and their families which makes you feel that the company cares for you and your family’s wellbeing. The places I have worked previously weren’t focused on their employees’ lives outside of work and I find this a very important element if you want to retain talented women in the firm.”
This year’s International Women’s Day won’t find us sitting on our laurels. We will be looking at how we can further implement greater equity at Mercer & Hole throughout every part of the firm. Equity in our firm means that we can truly fulfil our duty to our clients.
“Our employees are Mercer & Hole. We are committed to demonstrating equity throughout every aspect of our firm rather than simply talking about it and this means tailoring our approach towards each individual, so that they can do their job to the best of their ability.” Paul Maberly, Managing Partner.
The Mercer & Hole team have put together a video with the firm’s key messages in support of International Women’s Day, along with Melisa Attisha who is the Executive Vice President at TAG Alliances. It’s important to mark International Women’s Day with our International alliance, made up of over 20,000 professionals in accountancy and law across the globe.