International Women’s Day, for me, offers a moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made in shifting away from some traditional mindsets that can limit us in terms of what we expect of others and what we expect of ourselves. Here are some high level thoughts on areas that women should consider to progress their careers and maximize their impacts in the business world.
My journey to becoming the Global Head of Tax for KPMG International was not a ‘traditional’ one. It was atypical in the sense that I never set out to become a Tax advisor at all. In fact, on leaving university, I had every intention of becoming a Clinical Psychologist. Through an application to the foreign services, I somehow ended up in Tax, and I discovered that this field challenged my mind in unexpected ways. You could say that the career found me rather than the other way around. This has led me to the conclusion that the essence of growth in a career is as simple as focusing on what you enjoy. The rest of your path will define itself.
However, when it comes to maximizing your impact in your chosen profession, I often offer advice to women I work with about being mindful of the types of tasks they take on and wanting to be a “team player.” Being a team player is important, of course, but sometimes there are general assumptions that women are good at certain kinds of jobs, such as organizing things. Often, you will be asked to take on these kinds of tasks in a flattering way, “You are so good at organizing everyone; we simply cannot pull this off without you.” But this can come at the cost of your colleagues coming to you for this type of support rather than for your strategic insights. My advice to women seeking to ascend into leadership roles is to think twice about the tasks you take on. Steer clear of the jobs that you think you should be doing, and instead pursue those you truly enjoy. You’ll find yourself doing a lot more of those tasks.
Personally, the most rewarding thing about leading a growing business is the relationships I’ve been able to build with people, and in growing the people around me. It is incredibly rewarding to witness someone with whom I’ve worked and mentored develop into strong leaders, respectfully claiming their own seat at the leadership table. This, in my mind, is true progress. Gender is a secondary aspect of who we are, it does not define what we can achieve. Still, the business world has made progress, but there is more work to do in achieving complete gender parity.
For example, a lot has been done to tackle unconscious bias, but there are certain areas, such as in daily performance management, where unconscious bias needs to be better addressed. I think there are still deep-seeded biases about the way we manage the responsibility of child-rearing and the beliefs around who should own this responsibility, and the impact that responsibility will have on the person’s working life. The pressures of being responsible for raising and nurturing children still often fall on women, but men raising children face this too. In my mind, the right processes and perceptions are not yet strong enough to alleviate the stress that comes with raising children and being ambitious in one’s career.
At work and beyond, I think just being curious about the world will take you to places you never thought possible. A few years ago, I decided to pursue my pilot license. I’d always been curious about flying, and I decided to satisfy my curiosity by taking a course and, eventually, obtaining my pilot license. My hunger for curiosity defines me and, as a result, my life has been one of continual learning. This has served me well in my Tax career since rules and legislations are continuously changing. I’m continuously reinventing myself as a tax advisor to stay ahead of the reforms. This curiosity not only makes work more fulfilling—it makes life more enjoyable. I always seek out and encourage this type of curiosity in others I work with, and many of the most influential leaders I have known in my career are the kinds of people who are always learning new things and trying to grow as professionals and as people.
Because, at the end of the day, all of this discussion is about enabling people—about ensuring every individual can be empowered to bring their best, most complete self to their work, their organizations, their colleagues and their communities. When that happens, everyone benefits.
My pledge as a business leader is to continue to strive to find strengths in our diversities by supporting non-traditional paths to success. Together, let’s push for progress through whichever path takes us there, even if that requires paving a new path of our own.
Jane McCormick, Global Head of Tax, KMPG International, believes that women need to be champions of inclusion, across the board. Jane is determined to change the narrative of diversity and help lift women up in the work force, through example and through active steps of inclusion.