We recently launched our inaugural Women in Finance ranking, spotlighting women who are leaders, trailblazers and transforming their respective industries. Anna Anthony from EY won the top spot based on votes from our audience.
We sat down with Anna to discuss her career trajectory, the gender pay gap, the danger of conformity and how to help women thrive in the financial services industry.
Anna Anthony has to wear many hats. As EY’s managing partner for EMEIA Financial Services tax and legal, she leads 1,700 people across 14 different markets. On an average day you may find her advising clients on a range of international tax issues, from US tax reforms to Brexit, or in the office setting market strategy, hiring partners and expanding the firm into new markets. In her downtime you might find her tracking jaguars in Brazil or polar bears in Canada, as part of her hobby of wildlife photography.
When asked to pinpoint what traits make her successful, Anna credits her drive to constantly learn and evolve, her energy and her optimism.
She chose to specialise in tax after completing a law degree and qualifying as an accountant at PwC, seeing it as a good cross over between the two. Working as an international tax adviser keeps you on your toes, she explains, because “everything changes all of the time.”
“Particularly when you work in tax, the law changes in some way every year, so what you were expert in last year may not even exist this year. You’re constantly reinventing yourself, which is quite hard work actually.”
Although it’s a constant challenge, Anna says, “It’s also the reason I really like it.”
“There’s always something new, always something different. If you’re the kind of person who likes a challenge, change, and learning new things, then it’s a really good job to have.”
Agility is key to thriving in this field, as Anna explains “you have to move with the market, and you have to move with what’s happening with your clients.”
When asked to name her proudest professional achievement, she says it has to be making partner in 2008, “just because I don’t think I ever really believed that I would.” Anna rose to partner at only 30, an impressive feat not least because of the speed of her trajectory, having joined the firm only four years prior at one level above graduate. She will celebrate her 10 year partner anniversary this year.
What comes a close second, Anna says, is now being in a position to bring other people through to partner. “That’s pretty special”, she says.
It is evident that Anna takes pride in her role as a leader and team player, naming her colleagues at EY as her favourite part of the job. The feeling is clearly mutual – evidenced by the wide margin of votes by which she secured the top spot on our Women in Finance ranking.
She describes her leadership style as inclusive, collaborative and honest – “when it comes to the good and the bad”.
She stresses the importance of a diverse leadership and taking in different points of view. “My worst kind of meeting is when everyone sits in a room, one person talks and everyone else just nods. What’s the point of that? We might as well have just sent a memo.”
“I like an environment where everybody is quite challenging, which then allows me to have lots of different data points.”
However, a collaborative approach is of the utmost importance especially considering Anna works across multiple countries and markets – “no single approach is going to work across all of that.”
That being said, she is decisive once she’s made up her mind and happy to take action after taking in all the data points. “I am quite results-orientated and I like to see progress”, she says.
On women in finance
When asked whether she believes a glass ceiling exists, she says “there is definitely something that you have to break through – but I think the fact that there are challenges for women to progress into senior roles is more acknowledged and transparent than it was. There are increasing examples of women who have managed to break through that barrier – not least all of the women featured in this short list.”
Discussions around the gender pay gap have been particularly prevalent in recent months, with all firms being required to publish data earlier this year.
“I don’t think many firms are proud of the figures they’re publishing”, Anna says, “but I’m really glad we’re talking about it.”
“We actually took quite a big front foot on that,” she says, as EY was the first accountancy firm to publish its partner pay gap data, going beyond the UK pay gap regulations. The firm also went beyond the legislation to provide its BAME pay gap data.
Anna emphasises that equal pay – ensuring a man and women doing the same or a similar role are paid equally – is different to gender pay gap data. ”UK pay gap regulations are designed to show differences in the average (median and mean) earnings between men and women, as a percentage of men’s earnings. Figures across the board suggest a lack of women in more senior roles and fewer men in less senior positions.”
So what can we do to help women travel up the corporate pipeline? “Talking about it is a good start”, Anna says, lauding transparency as an important step to fuel debate around parity and diversity and to push firms to act.
There is also more firms can do to support women on their career paths in terms of diversity targets, mentorship and sponsorship.
Anna finds targets to be more helpful than quotas in boosting diversity, but emphasises that that is a very personal view. She explains that some dangers come with diversity quotas, in that there is a risk the individual will be undermined by the view that they only got the job due to being part of a quota – and this refers to external perceptions as well as internal confidence.
“That can make it incredibly challenging for the individual to do their job and be as credible in that role,” she explains.
That being said, she supports quotas on pools for consideration. “So if you have a promotion spot I’m quite happy that the interview quota has to be 50/50 male-female for example. We have a policy of proportional promotions.”
Targets, on the other hand, she says she is a big fan of “as long as they look at behaviour, not outcomes – so what are you doing to try and hit your target.”
“We have targets all the way through the organisation on all different kinds of levels,” she explains, starting with a 50/50 gender split target at student intake. It is especially important to level the playing field right from the beginning.
Anna also credits mentorship and sponsorship as having helped her throughout her career. She says she has had several mentors, within and outside of EY, who have helped with things like guidance and self-belief, and is now a mentor herself to others. EY runs a leadership development programme for high performing female senior managers, called Accelerate@EY, which offers coaching, training, self-directed learning and sponsorship that supports and encourages women’s professional development.
Although appreciative and supportive of mentorship, Anna believes sponsorships often go unsung and were in fact more effective in propelling her career.
“Mentorship is about guidance, but having someone senior in the firm really backing you and saying ‘think about Anna’, and saying to me ‘think about yourself’ – that made a much bigger difference I think actually in my own personal progression than mentors.”
She says that often sponsorship comes into the process too late, in a “oh someone’s going for a promotion, let’s find them a sponsor” situation, and that beginning this process early is crucial for truly fostering rising talent.
Visibility is also of utmost importance, Anna says, crediting initiatives such as the Women in Finance ranking for highlighting successful women and helping other women believe they can do it too.
“I’ve found that there can be a quite strange lack of confidence in women that for some reason they think they can’t do it, but if you ask them why they can’t do it, there’s no real reason. The example seems to be that I haven’t really seen anyone else like me do it.
“So the more you can highlight people like them the better – and that’s never one single woman, there’s no role model that works for every single person, you just need more of them so that people can relate to one of them, or aspects of them.”
When asked what advice Anna would give to a woman starting her career in this field, she says the most important thing is to be yourself.
“That might sound really silly but I think there’s a lot of people, not just women, lots of people who feel like they need to look, act, behave and talk, the way other people do in order to be successful.”
On the contrary, Anna says, being yourself in a professional setting is crucial because you can’t sustain a career not being yourself, and a lot of the profession is actually about standing out – “finding your USP and running with it.”
On the changing industry
While ever-changing international issues such as Brexit and the US tax reform dominate her client-facing role, Anna says the other big change impacting the accountancy industry is dealing with technology and its impact on workforce.
Anna explains, “Because all of us are people firms at heart, our business model for many years has been that we sell our people – and technology is changing that somewhat, because there are certain things that people have always done that technology now does better, faster, and cheaper.”
What the industry must do now, she says, is harness the opportunities brought by technology and figure out “what do your people do vs what does your technology do, and how do those two things fit together.”
With the rise of flexible working and “one firm for life” becoming an old work model, Anna says the biggest challenge will be “figuring out how firms best work with technology, while maintaining what is core to their culture, and always keeping in touch with clients’ issues.”
“And I think they’ll all do it quite differently actually, because the cultures of the firms are quite different.”
On looking ahead
Finally, we discuss what’s next in her career progression and where she sees herself in five years. To that Anna says: “I honestly don’t know. And the reason I say that is I’ve never really known. I’m not too set on where I’m going because then I think I might ignore other things that I could do.”
Most positions she has held in the firm have been for a maximum 2-3 years, so she says in five years it’s likely she’ll be doing something different.
“Will it be entirely different? Maybe, maybe not. Will it be with EY? I hope so. I think there’s loads still to do with this firm.”
“I hope still at EY, I hope doing something I still love. What that is, I don’t know. We’ll find out.”
Join us at 9.30am on 17 May for our Women in Finance webinar, as our expert panel discuss these topics in addition to debating how we can drive progress and change to improve opportunities and advance the careers of women in finance. Register here!