By Kate Barton and Manuel Solano
When Nora Morales was one of only a few women on track to become a partner at a leading Mexican tax firm, she postponed starting a family for years because she feared it would hurt her chances of promotion.
“It was the general understanding, although of course not a written policy, that a woman manager who was pregnant would have to elect between not being a partner in the future and her role as a mother,” Morales recalls. “Both roles were not entirely compatible.”
Soon after she became the firm’s only female partner, Morales did become pregnant. And she soon learned that not only were her previous fears valid, her status as partner didn’t mitigate them.
“I talked with the directors in order to try to find a plan that would give me enough flexibility and certainty about my work and my clients,” Morales recalls. “Unfortunately, the plan that was offered did not meet all my requirements.”
Morales elected to leave that firm, and her timing was impeccable. Social change benefiting women is beginning to take root in Mexico and other emerging markets. While Mexican laws have supported equal pay and opportunity for many years, the traditional culture of a male-dominated workforce has become substantially more inclusive of women in the past 10 years. Opportunity for women grew through times of both economic expansion (from agreements like NAFTA)—and contraction (such as the Peso crisis).
Yet women are scarcely present in leadership positions. As recently as 2012, for example, Forbes reported that no major company in Mexico was led by a female chief executive. And only 7 percent of Mexican companies have a female board member.
Celebrating Milestones in EY’s Journey
From our vantage point, the global EY organization has joined others in the private sector to lead the way in achieving better gender balance in Mexico’s workplace. In the U.S., professional-services firms had to spend time catching up to the pace at which corporate America was hiring women tax professionals. As Mancera S.C., the EY member firm in Mexico, expands our tax practice in that country, we hope to be at the forefront, also encouraging diversity among our clients and the broader Mexican business community.
Francisco (Paco) Alvarez, Vice Chair and Regional Managing Partner for EY in Mexico and Central America, is devoted to providing a welcoming environment for professional women to thrive by inculcating an inclusive mindset in our people. One example of that commitment is the firm’s recent recruitment and promotion of three women to tax partner in Mexico. Given the supply of top women talent at EY Mexico and in the Mexican marketplace, the firm plans to nearly double the percentage of women tax partners to 20 percent in Mexico in the next two years.
Morales was one such recruit. She says the decision to join EY was easier because she felt that promises of workplace flexibility were bona fide.
“The plan that EY offered met my needs, since it granted me with enough flexibility to develop my work and also with a lot of certainty,” Morales says. “The culture of diversity and integration of working mothers that I have encountered in EY exceeded my expectations.”
Recognizing the Many Benefits of Flexibility
Although offering flexibility for all is a priority in all EY firms, Mexico’s strong emphasis on meeting family responsibilities makes it essential in this market.
EY Mexico partner Rocio Mejia remembers having many of the same concerns as Morales in the late 2000s before she joined EY. After choosing to stay at home with her two young boys for 18 months after her second son was born, she sought to return to her previous employer. All she was offered was a part-time arrangement.
She, too, joined EY from a competitor because of the flexibility that was offered. Mejia eventually became partner in 2012, when both of her sons were in primary school. She now leads the global trade team for EY Mexico. A typical day involves early-morning conference calls followed by getting her children off to school. She often breaks for lunch with her children and takes client calls during soccer practices. Once both boys are fed dinner and tucked into bed, she is frequently back online tackling client needs and workplace demands.
Mejia says clients and peers are often surprised to learn about her arrangement. “It is very unusual to have schedules and arrangements like mine,” she added. “My clients and contacts are surprised I can do what I do. They are envious.”
The flexibility EY offers is available to and just as important for men and women, parents and singles. But in a culture like Mexico’s where traditional gender roles still dominate, it is vitally important that women are given the flexibility they need—without penalizing their professional opportunities.
Reaching beyond flexibility: Other efforts that move the needle
Achieving gender equity in the workplace, as with all diversity and inclusiveness initiatives, is not automatic. Dedicated efforts must help evolve policies into practice, translating our increased investment in Mexico into more opportunities for women as well.
Beyond offering flexibility, we help advance women professionals by providing coaching and training and engaging in organizations that enable women to support each other. We also continue to focus on developing accounting professionals into leaders at EY and in the business community. And, we believe in pay parity and promotion parity below the executive level, by establishing specific criteria.
As we take great pride in celebrating EY Mexico’s early gender equity efforts, and the success stories of Morales, Mejia and many others, we are mindful of the fact that there is still much work to be done. We remain committed to supporting, mentoring, sponsoring and advancing women to further shatter glass ceilings and ensure that the differences of all of our people around the world are fully valued—including in vital emerging markets such as Mexico.
Kate Barton is the EY Americas Vice Chair – Tax Services. Approximately 10,600 tax professionals at EY member firms serve clients in North, South and Central America and in Israel.
Manuel Solano is the tax managing partner for EY in Mexico and Central America.