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Imperfection the key to Perfection – by Tariq Siraj

Imperfection the key to Perfection

I read all the time about the gap between the skills that businesses need and the availability of those skills coming through from the outside world. More importantly, as a headhunter, I also see it playing out day after day.

This morning on my train I read a really interesting opinion piece on this by Nick Russell – a Director at engineering firm Thomasons:

We constantly discuss with our clients about the need to be open minded as to where their required skillset might come from, and I firmly believe in the ability (and willingness) to search beyond the bullet points on a job description as being a core skill for any good recruiter.

We know full well that companies rarely (or ever?) hire people who perfectly fit a job description – there is a more intangible element to people than what is on a piece of paper. While the merits of the old-fashioned CV is a conversation for another day, this article addresses the broader picture very nicely;

There are too many pre-existing and outdated ideas about the background you must have to enter certain industries or degree courses. Engineering degrees ‘need’ Maths and Physics A-levels, International Development hiring ‘needs’ Politics or Economics degrees, Banks ‘need’ Economics or Business degrees…you get the idea.

As an example, by looking at Maths and Physics students almost exclusively for Engineering courses, Universities are considering a talent pool around 95% smaller than they could be and certainly missing out on some great future engineers.

It’s far better than it used to be, but these are deep-rooted mental and cultural barriers which take a long time to overcome.

In the article he asks: “Where does the blame for this lie? Within the education system, with businesses, or with the students themselves? The answer is, sadly, all of the above”

“Perceptions need to change” and perhaps the collaboration between the commercial world and the education system needs to run deeper and work far better.

As our society becomes ever more automated and digitised, society needs to reskill, and businesses need to hire and develop people outside the boundaries they’ve set themselves. Rather than narrow, it’s crucial that the scope needs to expand.

Women In Indirect Tax Networking Group – 1st Anniversary! by Liz Watt

This week we’re celebrating the first anniversary of the Women in Indirect Tax networking group. Celebrating success isn’t something that sits comfortably with many of us, but this does feel like something positive to share, given that nothing similar existed before and the past year has seen the network grow in numbers, energy and momentum.

I started the WIT networking group because, as a long-standing recruiter in the Indirect Tax space, I could see that there were many women who felt isolated as they climbed the career ladder; as they became more senior, so their peer group diminished. There was a sense that that the sector was losing talented women because many felt that they had no forum to discuss the issues and challenges they were facing and did not have wider network to tap into.

As I had shifted my focus to running an Executive Coaching business for BLT, I was in a position to be able to establish this networking group. From 2 small focus groups, a year on we have progressed to having two thriving groups, a waiting list of people wanting to join and lots of plans and ideas as to how the network might evolve.

Members are drawn form the accountancy profession – big 4, mid-tier and smaller firms, from industry and commerce and the legal profession. The members of the current groups are mainly at senior manager level and above, but we have also involved some at a more junior level too and this has worked well, so there are plans to widen the networks demographic.

For those of you not familiar with the WIT network, what’s the format? We meet for an afternoon once a quarter and at each session we have a guest speaker who delivers a workshop or seminar, we have round table discussion where attendees can raise issues that are important to them and tap into the combined experiences of the group, and of course there’s plenty of opportunity to network. The content is most definitely not technical! Our excellent speakers have covered a diverse range of topics, from developing communication skills, resilience, personal presentation, dealing with ‘perfectionism’ and styling your working wardrobe. Coming up we will be exploring how to navigate organizational politics, enhancing emotional intelligence and developing confidence.

 The sessions are very interactive and the aim is to offer a learning and development opportunity and to have fun doing it!

I also think the sessions provide our members with the opportunity to take some time out for themselves, to act as a ‘pause’ in their busy working lives and provide some space for personal development and reflection.

Looking to the future, a key initiative is to establish a group for more junior indirect tax specialists, as I believe the issues they face are different and deserve dedicated focus.  This will also be a chance for them to look beyond their own firm or business and start making those vital connections within the wider indirect tax population. Plans are afoot to establish a regional group too.  And also a mentoring scheme that will draw together women at all stages of their indirect tax career.

It’s an exciting time! If you would like to find out more about the Women’s Indirect Tax Networking group, either for yourself or one of your team members, please contact me: e mail : or phone : 020 7405 3404

And if you would like help in establishing a networking group for your own niche sector, I would love to speak to you.

Indirect Tax Women’s Network Logo 1

CHOOSE LIFE…by Tariq Siraj

They say sports and politics should never mix, but they do share a common trait – certainly in recent times – in that both have largely helped debunk the myth of the ‘all-knowing commentator’. Time and again the pollsters, forecasters, pundits and predictors get it wrong. Life, it seems, does not play out according to stats, simulations or rankings.

This has been particularly true of the World Cup in Russia where the results have specifically (and gloriously) shattered the idea that having billions of dollars and ‘world-renowned experts’ gives you some magic soothsaying abilities.

As a way to show off their fancy modelling techniques and predict the winner before the start, UBS deployed a team of 18 analysts and editors, ran a computer simulation of the tournament 10,000 times and produced a comprehensive 17-page research note – all at great cost.

Unfortunately for them their prediction was that Germany would, by some distance ahead of Spain and Brazil, be the likely winner again. After all the expense and trumpet blowing, their big conclusion went down the toilet in the group stages.

Similarly, after two games Goldman Sachs re-ran their own ‘market leading’ mathematical model to predict the outcome of all the knockout games and the eventual winner. Again, like UBS, the ‘experts’ and the uber modern game-changing models were left in the shade by how real life played out; of the 16 teams in the second round only four were predicted correctly by Goldman to advance, and their conclusion that Brazil would be the winner was also laid to rest after their defeat on the Quarter Finals.


So…what’s the point?

On the one hand UBS and Goldman predicting Germany, Brazil or Spain to triumph was essentially just in line with the thoughts of the majority of people anyway – so were the expensive simulations, reports and expert analysts actually required at all? The phrase ‘we could have told you that’ comes to mind.

And on the other hand, of course, the predictions were completely and embarrassingly wrong…so whether you’re a multi-billion dollar bulge bracket bank or just a simple football fan, it seems as if football matches and life will indeed play out on their own terms.

Now, we definitely could have told you that!


Choose Life...

The Gender Pay Gap – righting a wrong! by Catriona Cookson

Just in case you were all thinking this newsletter was too much about the football …….although I know women are just as interested in the football as men. What’s not to like about Gareth, Harry and the Band of Brothers?

Anyway, a change of tack now with a look at the recent settlement by the BBC with Carrie Gracie former China editor. The BBC apologised, admitted they had been underpaying her and paid the backpay which was due. The BBC acknowledged she was told she would be paid in line with the North America editor when she took the role, but in reality, this never happened.

Carrie Gracie has now donated her backpay to a charity, the Fawcett Society to help low paid women and those who don’t have access to the high caliber legal advice which assisted Carrie in her claim.

It is very easy for people to say in many situations – It’s about the principle and not about the money”, and with her actions Carrie Gracie has won on all fronts. I’ve read some snippy articles saying she should have kept the money, a man would never have given it away etc etc. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have given it all away ….some of it yes, but some of that hard earned cash I’d want to spend on certain things. So, all credit to Carrie Gracie, she fought her corner and won……and was gracious in her comments about Director General Tony Hall and is contributing to a project at the BBC in women in the workplace there. So, let’s see what comes out of all of that!

In the meantime, let’s hope this rings a very large alarm bell for any organisations in a similar position and that they have taken the necessary steps to rectify the situation. There can be no excuse!

Pay Gap

What can we learn from Barcelona and Iniesta? by Catriona Cookson

Staying with the football theme, I was interested to read an article by Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour,at INSEAD about Andres Iniesta’s Farewell match at Barcelona . Iniesta joined Barcelona when he was 12 and was leaving 22 years later having won more trophies than any other player in Spanish history. He’s gone on to play in this World Cup and is off to Japan for the next chapter in his career.

Gianpiero considers that in the modern workplace we are all potentially always on the move, in a state of liminality (yes, a new word for me too), where we are always betwixt and between. And, if we are to be more flexible in the workplace, with multiple moves in our careers, then we and the organisations we work for need to become much better at endings. I’d guess most people would want to be a “good leaver” from one role to the next, and how organisations as well as individuals manage this is key. Today’s leaver could be tomorrow’s client – many consulting firms have wisened up to the power of their alumni network and the opportunities this brings.

And once again the beautiful game comes up with a beautiful story of Barcelona keeping the stadium open for Iniesta until he decided to leave at 1am, when it would earn no money, sell no shirts or win any points ….to allow a great player a moment of solitude and reflection…..and that beautiful picture!



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