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Networking Groups for Women – Emerging Talent

In June last year I wrote an article celebrating the 1st anniversary of the Women in Indirect Tax networking group. Since then, another group has launched successfully and the number of members has grown rapidly. We also now have members who have moved into broader based tax leadership roles from an indirect tax start, and women from other niche areas of tax and the law. This has added a new, richer dimension to the membership profile.

So the next initiative for 2019 is a networking group for women at an earlier stage in their career. This has come about for two primary reasons. Firstly – demand! Several existing members would really like other women in their teams to enjoy the same benefits of belonging to such a group, but with those in their own peer group.

And secondly, a recognition that the issues women face at this earlier stage of their career are different. Of course, there are crossovers, and areas of universal interest. However, there is a realization that ignoring the concerns, challenges and aspirations of this generation is resulting in many of them being unwilling to apply for promotions, or worse still, leaving the technical discipline for which they have trained so hard for pastures new.

Investing in women as they qualify and move up the career ladder is therefore seen as a smart move, and one that forward-thinking businesses are taking seriously.

The benefits of having a strong business network for all demographics are widely acknowledged; belonging to a networking group is a powerful thing. But I am often asked – why a women’s networking group? Research shows that one of the ‘unwritten rules’ of advancement in business is having a strong network, both inside one’s workplace, as well as within the wider business community. And yet it is a fact that most women do not have as strong a network as their male counterparts. A dedicated group therefore provides an opportunity to develop a network amongst your industry peer group and a platform to discuss relevant issues in a safe, supportive and collaborative environment. It is an opportunity to take time away from the office to plan, reflect and learn, gaining confidence through sharing ideas and experiences.

Given these undoubted benefits, it seems a no brainer to provide women taking those early steps towards management and leadership the platform to make and nurture connections, whilst also honing the skills needed, above and beyond the technical, that are vital to career success and advancement.

The format of the group is to meet once a quarter for an afternoon. We have a great guest presenter or workshop focussing on a personal development or ‘soft-skills’ topic, a forum for group discussion and plenty of opportunity for networking during the afternoon and afterwards. It’s non-technical – everyone gets more than enough technical input back at the office!

The programme will include sessions focussing on communication skills, navigating office politics, how to develop business, resilience and stress management, personal presentation and dressing for success, amongst others.

If you work in indirect tax or other areas of tax in practice (Big 4, mid tier or independent consultancy) in-house or the law and would like to join the group or nominate one of your team for membership, please get in touch for more information.


Indirect Tax Women’s Network Logo 1

‘Nice’…so underrated….by Tariq Siraj

Time (and tiredness) often get in the way, but if you’re anything like me then you read as much as you can – newspaper articles, online blogs, magazine pieces or a bit of a novel when you can – and occasionally something really jumps off the page at you and sticks in your head. Recently, ‘The Kindness Quotient’ – an article about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did just that. At a time when everything and everyone seems so polarised, when scaremongering is at an all-time high and the feel-good factor is probably at a low, and when strong-man populist political leaders seem to be the in-thing – reading about a head of state who consciously and unashamedly runs on a platform of kindness hit me like a brick wal…actually no – like a really good hug.

In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in New Zealand her profile went far more global and she was highly praised for her reaction of compassion and outreach on the human side and channelling her anger at stricter gun laws on the policy side. But interestingly this article – penned by Helen Clark, another former female New Zealand PM – was written before that happened. There seems a legitimacy to this. In September last year she addressed the UN General Assembly calling for ‘kindness and collectivism’ as an alternative to isolationism, protectionism and racism.

‘Nice’ sells…

Mark Cuban is a billionaire-businessman from the States but, much like Mrs Ardern, was someone I knew the name of but not much detail about. Among other things he owns the Dallas Mavericks NBA team and is a mainstay on Shark Tank – the US version of Dragon’s Den. On paper he and Jacinda Ardern are polar opposites; one a principled ‘do-gooding’ female politician and the other a poster-boy for what the ultra-capitalist ruthless ‘shark’ male businessman is supposed to be…but surprisingly, both leaders in their fields share a simple but defining principle; openly extoling the virtue of kindness.

An article I read on Cuban included a revealing quote; “one of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice. Nice sells.”  He talks about how far-removed he was from that approach when he started out and how “I wouldn’t have wanted to do business with me when I was in in my 20s”. Cuban seems the sort of guy who spouts ‘inspiring’ business-related quotes all the time and is certainly one of those social-media and tv-friendly entrepreneurs who thrive off being followed, quoted and photographed. However, again, that particular quote is not just relevant and timely at the moment, but there seems some legitimacy to it.

…but it’s the doing that matters

Cuban is a billionaire and his current ventures and rise up the ladder clearly did and do require a level of bloody-mindedness and brute force, but he has also clearly taken his own advice on board. He rubbishes that age-old adage of ‘don’t take no for an answer’ as, according to him, “every no gets me closer to a yes”. Communicating with people and understanding the reasons behind each rejection allowed him to evolve and get that all important ‘yes’ next time.  That approach – more mature and measured than the cursing, angry ‘bam, bam, bam’ style of that guy in his 20s – has been hugely successful and is fundamentally rooted in ‘niceness’. The importance of EQ as well as IQ.

The parallels between business and politics may not be quite as neat and perfect as articles like this would like to suggest – but the similarities are interesting.

I genuinely think the vast majority of politicians want to do good and make their local area, country or world a better place. However, while it looks good for every politician to lay out things like climate change, the refugee crisis and reducing child poverty as priorities – it is of course the doing that matters. Just months into her term Jacinda Ardern effectively stopped all oil & gas exploration in domestic waters, she then offered New Zealand as a home to refugees stranded in camps on Papua New Guinea, and one of her first initiatives was a tax package which is forecast to reduce child poverty by around 40% over the next 3 years.

There are a fair few routes to success in both fields but, though for slightly different reasons, both Cuban and Ardern have rooted their approaches in a high-regard for human compassion, kindness and understanding. EQ as well as IQ.

Now, neither are perfect and I’m the first to admit I’m not exactly qualified to write their biographies just yet – but with all that’s going on in the world doesn’t it feel good to know that those in high-places take that view? It’s….um, what’s the name of that feeling?….nice!

Photograph by Jorge Silva / Reuters

Dictionary Corner – by Catriona Cookson

If you’re looking for someone new to follow on Twitter, take a look at Susie Dent. Who’s she I hear you ask? Well, as she describes herself in her profile “ That Woman In Dictionary Corner” …….from Countdown. Oh yes, I hear you all say ….and who knew she has 365,000 followers !!

It’s a gem for lots of interesting and unusual words, and their meanings, and some of the recent ones are a real tonic:

Bloviator – someone who talks for hours and says nothing

Ultracrepidarian – an uninformed know – it – all.

We all know lots of these!

And if you’re thinking of toadying up to someone – do you know where that comes from? In 17th century markets, quacks would sell their “magic” medicines by having their assistants swallow a “poisonous” live toad and then be miraculously cured. So ….the toad eater is a fawning flatterer!

And my current favourite is hurkle – durkling – an 18th century Scottish term which means lounging in bed long after it’s time to get up! Hopefully, not too much of this happening if this lovely spring weather reappears.

Susie Dent


MCA Member Survey 2019 – by Catriona Cookson

The MCA has recently published its 2019 Member Survey, you can take a look here ……fortunately for all of us the outlook seems positive with 9 in 10 respondents believing their consulting activity will increase in the next 12 -14 months, and members estimating that consulting activity grew by almost 6% in the last twelve months. As ever Brexit provides both an opportunity and a challenge ……

I found one of the most interesting sections to be the section on the young MCA, members who have been in the industry 0-5 years.

The percentage of young consultants attending Russell Group universities has dropped from 73% in 2011 to 54% in 2018. The number of young consultants attending Oxbridge has also decreased significantly from 13% in 2011 to 4% in 2018.

The report states :

“What is clear from the survey findings is that the industry is becoming more accessible than ever to graduates from all backgrounds. While a significant proportion of young respondents attended a Russell Group university (above the national average), there has been notable downward trend since 2011”

Is the data provided in the report really telling us this? The overall sample size was 328 and there is no information around how many of this group are young MCA…so we only have a small sample of young MCA on which to reach this conclusion. It may be that some Russell Group candidates were offered roles in management consultancy but choose alternative options in banking, fin tech, start ups etc or it may be that some Russell Group candidates joined management consultancy and then left after a couple of years using their early experience as a career springboard. It seems to me that we haven’t got enough data to conclude that “entrance to leading management consultancy firms is becoming more accessible than ever”

In fact, the league table of universities attended by young MCA members in 2018 is broadly similar to 2016 – and Loughborough although not a Russell Group university is a very good university with high entrance requirements.

The management consultancy firms will continue to make offers to Russell Group and Oxbridge candidates, and so to increase diversity, accessibility and inclusion the key is to increase access to the top universities. That’s why the real story (and the real positive for the MCA) is their decision to choose The Access Project as their charity partner for the Recent MCA Awards.

This charity works with bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them gain access to top universities. This will then facilitate their access to top tier careers in fields such as management consultancy, law and corporate finance. If the MCA really wants to increase accessibility, they should continue their partnership with this charity and encourage their member firms to do the same.


Purpose Beyond Profit….by Catriona Cookson

I chuckled recently at the EuroMillions lottery winner who won £71m and freely admitted it was going to change his life – his days of shift work in a factory were over! Good for you, I thought, much better this than those people who say it won’t change them, they’ll keep doing the same job, living the same life blah blah blah.

We all drift off into the fantasy world sometimes of what we would do if we won the lottery ….and yes, I would disappear out of management consultancy recruitment quicker than you can say “blue sky thinking”! And while that would bring some amazing freedom, it brings with it some big challenges too. And that’s where purpose comes in. There seems to be a lot of chatter in the business and consulting world around purpose at the moment …. Purpose Beyond Profit….Profit with a Purpose ….. how an organisation with purpose can use this as part of its recruitment strategy etc etc.

Without a sense of purpose, most of us would be lost…we think it would be ideal to be free, to have no constraints, to do what we like…. but the combination of too much time and too much money on your hands can lead to disaster. We can all think of fabulously successful and wealthy people (or their children) who with no real focus in life can end in despair. Even people who have looked forward to retirement can often find a void when they escape from the routine and status of work.

So, as we’re all unlikely to become lottery winners anytime soon, we need to build on what we have , whether that’s in our personal lives or in our outside interests and activities. If you’re looking for some direction in your career, or to reassess some of your goals, perhaps some career coaching might help. Please do feel free to contact Liz Watt, who runs our coaching arm at BLT to discuss how she can help. In the meantime, keep buying those tickets …it could be you one day!!!


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