by: Jayne Stokes, Director, Global Employer Services, Deloitte, Middle East
I was asked to write an article in March 2014 as part of Deloitte’s Women March initiative for that year. The task I was given at the time was to share my story as a woman in the Middle East. At that time, I was a newly promoted senior manager and the challenge I had in putting pen to paper was that in the five years I had then been in the region, I had never regarded myself as a “woman in the Middle East”. In my mind, I was just me – a senior manager trying to get my head around my new role and trying to contribute to and to develop the team around me.
Fast forward a few years, and I have been asked this time to write to the subject of what gender equality means to me. In honesty, it is still a topic that vexes me but the simplest way I can say it is this: I don’t expect to be treated differently for being a woman – and I don’t expect others to do so either.
Looking around our team here in Dubai, I am proud to say that as a team we are diverse in more ways than just gender. We have in excess of 20 different nationalities, from different backgrounds, cultures and religions. It is incredibly pleasing to boast that we are pretty much a 50/50 balance of men and women, which is not something that was engineered, but is simply the way the team has evolved. We have women of different backgrounds, and at different stages of their careers – from graduates fresh out of university to those who have already achieved senior management positions, and continue to progress. We have brought women into the team who have actively chosen a career change to join our Firm and have succeeded in transitioning from backgrounds as diverse as teaching, and recruitment, in order to pursue careers as tax practitioners. A great example is one of our most recent hires – a recruitment consultant who after two years spent sourcing talent for Deloitte, realized she wanted to be part of our family herself and has since then set about obtaining the accounting qualifications to set herself up for a successful career with our Firm. Seeing this diverse group of people come together from different backgrounds and thrive within one team is one of the most rewarding experiences one could ask for as a leader of the Firm.
I am immensely proud to be part of a firm where women are not only given the opportunity to progress to leadership positions within the existing team, but are actively encouraged to take a role in the development of the practice. I have sat in leadership meetings with our existing partner group where women are not just encouraged, but expected, to contribute. On a personal level, I have been given the opportunity to go out and develop a service line and have been tasked with developing our GES (Global Employer Services) practice for the region. This should be a clear message to the women of our Firm that the opportunity on the table is more than to just climb a career ladder, but one to go out and set your own journey and make your own stamp on the practice.
I should say at this juncture that I am incredibly grateful to have had the support of the existing leadership group, both within the Middle East firm, as well as many of the global Firm leadership with whom I have had the privilege to work. Many of whom have provided feedback and encouragement to me to develop, and have actively embraced bringing females into the tax leadership team within the Middle East firm. This is the kind of support and encouragement which inspires me personally and which I believe sets our Firm apart from the rest.
So what happens next and what do we need to continue this positive momentum?
Of our group of 24 tax partners and directors within the Middle East firm, we do currently have just one woman represented (myself!) and so there is work to be done to even up the balance.
Looking around the existing team, I believe we are laying the first foundations to achieve this goal. For me, the real success will be in achieving a system where we provide the right culture and environment, where each individual – irrespective of gender, nationality, culture or background – can feel that they have the right to succeed and fulfill their potential, and that that success will be based upon their own individual merit. For my own part, I hope to continue to do what I set out do when I wrote that first article three years ago – to try to be as good a role model to my team as the individuals who inspired me all those years ago.
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