Invisible barriers are holding women back in workplace, says Rebecca Rennison of EY

Invisible barriers are holding women back because the world of work wasn’t made for them, according to Rebecca Rennison, one of the leading figures in the North’s corporate finance sector.

Ms Rennison, who has joined EY after chalking up more than 20 years of merger and acquisition experience, believes organisations must ask searching questions about their culture and whether it allows everyone to flourish.

She has a global perspective, because Ms Rennison spent 15 years at Raymond James in Canada, where she devoted a lot of energy to mentoring and supporting other women.

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During her time in Canada, Ms Rennison served as a board member for the Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland, a not-for-profit group that provides supportive mentoring relationships to young girls who may be facing bullying, isolation, poverty, abuse, social anxiety and low self-esteem.

Rebecca Rennison of EY

“Organisations are slowly driving change and are very aware of the need for gender parity,’’ she said. “We are making progress but we need to accelerate the pace of change to really make a difference.”

There are many steps organisations can take to ensure there is a greater gender balance in senior management, according to Ms Rennison.

She added: “For instance, is the hiring process open to all, or just existing male networks?

“Does the job posting appeal to females with the language and description? During the hiring process does the candidate feel excited about being part of the organisation’s culture and vision?”

Company’s must also consider whether roles offer flexibility to ensure talented staff are retained.

She added: “Is the female recognised for their abilities and promoted based on potential and not just past accomplishments?”

“Is the female always the “go to person” for office housekeeping and HR tasks, or is there a diverse allocation, allowing females to better contribute and gain experience from commercial, strategic and financial tasks too?”

Ms Rennison believes there must be strong female role models within every organisation, regardless of size. Female management styles are sometimes different, which means there is a business case for having someone who understands the benefit of a diverse voice.

Nobody should be made to feel like the token female at the top table, without any real influence on the company’s direction.

Ms Rennison said: “In 2019, EY set targets to double the proportion of female and ethnic minority partners in our UK business to 40% female and 20% from ethnic minority background.

“Metrics and targets have an important role in achieving change, but we know that achieving gender equality is also about actively nurturing a culture that gives people a sense of belonging by valuing them as individuals above the numbers.”

Ms Rennison, who previously led the PwC Yorkshire Corporate Finance team, joined EY’s corporate finance team in the North of England in late 2021.

Last year, was a record period for transactions despite the pandemic. During 2021 there was a significant amount of capital available which boosted the market.

She added: “Certain sectors have seen strong trading during Covid, which has led to heightened activity in the market. In the first quarter of 2021 we saw a lot of businesses race to complete sales because of fears that capital gains tax was due to be raised, although in fact this did not happen.”

The pandemic caused a lot of business owners to reflect and decide that they wanted to complete sales sooner rather than later, Ms Rennison said.

Last year, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year programme attracted a record number of entrants from Yorkshire.”

“It’s predicted that in the long term capital gains tax will become more closely aligned with income tax rates, which we are expecting to lead to high levels of merger and acquisition activity but at a more managed pace.

She added: “However, there could be some cooling off due to economic uncertainty. The Omicron variant could exacerbate disruption in the supply chain further.

“We could start to see more businesses in distress. What hasn’t helped is the supply chain shock. It’s unclear whether we are facing a new normal.

“Businesses across Yorkshire have shown resilience which has been great to see,’’ she added. “They have taken the opportunity to ensure they are fit for the future and are in a better shape to deliver growth over the next few months. Private equity has evolved so it comes in all shapes and sizes.”

She believes any business in the technology ecosystem will be expected to perform well because the pandemic has accelerated demand for its services.

She added: “Any sector related to improving your home environment and the growth of staycations is likely to do well.

“There is a lot of renewed interest in the healthcare sector, sustainability and clean tech.”

The pandemic has also changed perspectives on the relationship between work and home.

Ms Rennison said: “With the big shift towards more hybrid working, there will be a lot of focus on work life harmony and providing mentoring.”

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