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Post #11 - In conversation with Anna Marks


Hello everyone…season's greetings!


I hope you are all staying well over the festive period! When I first started this blog I wanted part of it to be about empowering other women and talking to individuals with interesting stories who I also personally looked up to. Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Anna on a personal level as my best friend’s mum. I’ve always looked up to her how she has managed to balance a hugely successful career with a family…and a social life! She is one the few women I knew personally who have managed to achieve this.


So for a little background information…her job:


I am lucky as my job is so wide ranging it is difficult to put into a short couple of sentences!!

I am a Partner at Deloitte (a global professional services firm), working with large listed clients. The work is varied and encompasses interacting with the Boards of Directors, Audit Committees and their teams on a variety of corporate activities including financial and public reporting audit, supporting growth through M&A or transaction-related activities; and the development and enhancement of governance and risk management processes.

I am a Vice Chair of the UK Firm and also a member of our Global Board which governs the Global FIrm. I am also on the Board of the CBI which is a UK business organisation providing a voice for regional, national and international businesses to policymakers.


Outside of work, I am on the Board of the Royal Hospital and Home for Neuro-disability, a charity meeting the complex needs of people with profound disabilities arising from brain injury – a charity close to my heart as they looked after a brother of mine for many years after he suffered a serious head injury as a teenager.”


A girl boss in summary.


Did you go to university? How did you find the experience, also from a gendered perspective?


“I went to the University of Warwick and studied Psychology which I think, given the nature of that degree, was fairly well balanced from a gender perspective.

From a social perspective, I don’t recall feeling afraid or concerned about my safety or wellbeing in the same way as I understand many women feel right now. I don’t know the driver for my sense of safety – whether that was the University itself and its culture, or whether it was just the group of friends and the environment where I chose to spend my time. Or it could just be that I was fortunate. Feeling safe is fundamental and underpins the entire way we look at the world and feel about ourselves – it can impact how we perform across all aspects of our life. We all (and by all I mean every single person and organisation) need to work harder to create that sense of safety, therefore.”


It is interesting that she felt safer at university than many women do nowadays. It makes you wonder whether womens safety issues have got worse, or as Anna says, whether maybe she was just fortunate? Food for thought certainly.


When you started off in this area what was the male/female gender split - did you ever feel like you were the only woman in the room? If you did, how did you cope with this?


“I recall upon joining the Firm after university that there was a fairly good balance of graduates joining at the same time in terms of gender – however, from a wider diversity perspective, less so.

What struck me, however, was the scarcity of women at senior levels and so I often felt I had few role models – this was less of an issue for me in the very early stages of my career, but became far more important as I moved towards promotions (where gender differences must be understood in order to give all candidates a level playing field) and also when I moved through different life phases, including starting a family.

I was lucky in that I had a couple of senior male partners who absolutely, even back then (!), were committed to creating a balanced workplace and so were instrumental in supporting my career development. And in fact they still are!

It is different today – there are many more female senior partners and role models – we are not where we want to be yet but we are seeing the fruits of our actions plans over many years – and of course also focused on the wider ‘inclusive’ environment to ensure all aspects of diversity are embraced – and not just embraced but really included. Part of this is ensuring an environment where people are confident to ‘speak up’ about what is unsettling them at work.

This is really important to ensure we are aware and mindful of any behaviours across the organisation (regardless of seniority) that may not be in accordance with our values and ethics and then, importantly, deal with them! This has been a personal passion for me and I do feel we are in a very different place than large organisations like ours were say 10 years ago – we can never be complacent though – always far more work to be done!!”


How has the work place changed for women since you started?


“In many respects: YES. In many respects: NO.

I know that an organisation like ours has had plans in place for a number of years now to build a more inclusive and diverse environment – it takes time and many of us get very impatient as we want to move quicker to a place where there is gender parity and also significant progress across all aspects of diversity. Having said that, I am hugely proud of what Deloitte has achieved. Nowadays, promotions processes are fairer, there is more focus on the gender pay gap, accepted behaviours have changed and anything other than those are not tolerated, women are respected and encouraged – but so much more still to do.

I do believe however that it does depend on where you work and what industry as well – I have described my own experience at Deloitte - some organisations and some sectors have more work to do than others. Albeit no one can rest on their laurels as we are not there yet!”

It is so encouraging to hear that large firms, such as Deloitte are putting genuine practices in place to make the workplace a better place for women, and a more representative place for all those from a minority background! Things ARE changing! Slowly (unfortunately)... but surely.


Have you ever experienced gender discrimination in the work place? How did you deal with this?


We are back to the time old debate of whether affirmative action is necessary to force more diversity or whether we should let it happen naturally. But if we do let it happen naturally… will change come to an acceptable place. And if we do go with the affirmative action approach, it can seem tokenistic…..


“As a young partner, I do recall being asked to take on a particular role which was a role specifically reserved for a woman to create better gender balance in the membership of that team

I remember a senior male partner saying to me “well you know you shouldn’t read too much into this, Anna. You only got the role because you are a woman”!

What a thing to say to a young female professional! I was pretty outraged and replied saying “Well yes – that is the entire point”

At the time I thought that was a good response but, reflecting on it, it wasn’t – I was one of the potential candidates to be considered for the role because I am a woman – that much is true – but I got the role because I was thought to be the best candidate out of that pool of professionals for that role. That was on my merits. And did it bother me that there was a seat reserved for a woman? Yes it did – it shouldn’t have to be that way – but at that time (over 10 years ago) that was what we needed to do at that point to move the dial.”


I think you have mentioned to me before that there have been times where you didn’t feel like you deserved a place at the table - how did you overcome this?


“Ah yes – imposter syndrome – and I still struggle with that on occasion! And I have spoken to many successful women and it is a familiar story for many! I have a fabulous coach, Emma, who has been working with me on some of this – aspects of self belief and impact.

At times it is a simple matter of a reminding myself why I am at that particular table (ie separating my feelings from fact)…..this sometimes works but at other times it is more complicated than that…I try to anticipate those situations where I am likely to feel that way and understand why I might do so and work on it, rationalise it, BEFORE I reach that meeting or situation. I am getting better and better at that.

Interestingly enough, whilst I used to worry that others could see it in my actions – when I mention any of this to work colleagues and teams (whether more experienced than me or less so), they are often surprised!”


What has been your biggest career challenge so far?


“Relocating!

When I first was promoted to being a partner in the Firm, they asked me to relocate from the London office to Birmingham. Not only was this a surprise but it would impact my husband and my girls (aged 1 and 3 at the time) as well as my wider family and friends who we lived close to.

This was when balancing work and non-work priorities was really put the test - we decided to move to Oxford to cut down the commute to Birmingham - it was fine at first but soon became a huge strain – leaving home before 5am to drive the 80 miles from Oxford to Birmingham to avoid the traffic, to fit in a run or some exercise in before starting work, then working all day, before driving home late at night, often arriving home around 10 pm or else staying overnight in Birmingham. It was a good work experience but work and life were totally out of balance and after 5 years, I recall talking to a particular senior partner about it and she responded so quickly – and before I knew it I had moved back south!

So whilst this was not a career challenge in terms of issues with my job, it was career challenge in that if it continued much longer, my own wellbeing would have suffered tremendously and I would have been no use at home or at work – fortunately the support at work meant that we avoided this!”


Since starting off your career as an accountant you have also gone on to have a family - how did you manage to balance the two? Do you have any tips for women trying to do this today?


“Well – it was not easy….and still isn’t! We had lots of help when the girls were small – but even so, there was lots of organising stuff that went on behind the scenes. All the while grappling with trying to balance work and home life which was not easy. And I think ‘time for me’ was one thing that I went without really.

It has always been the case (and absolutely continues to be so) that I would drop everything to be there for my girls whatever and whenever they need me – there is nothing and noone more important – I do think that this difficult couple of years of the pandemic has reminded us all of what is truly important (as if we needed reminding!)

My tips would be to get the right support around you – and to know that no ‘one size fits all’ – you need to work out what balance you want – and be bold and confident enough to achieve that. You can achieve all your goals – having a family is not a detractor to that – it is simply a fabulous part of it – you just need to work through the logistics, the balance and then enjoy the time and the love!!”


If you could give teenage Anna one tip now what would it be?


“I don’t know if I can choose just one – but my top tips would be:

o Define your own measure of success – it doesn’t need to be what people traditionally may define it as – it needs to be something that is real to you – it could be achieving a certain role in a career, it could be achieving a level of financial security, it could be becoming a parent, it could be swimming across the channel - It doesn’t matter what it is but work it out and then focus on it – and by the way…it doesn’t need to be just one thing!

o Be patient and enjoy the ride – you don’t need to get to where you are going in a hurry otherwise you’ll miss the enjoyment of the journey

o Find out who you are and be happy with it”


What would your biggest tip be to young women who are entering the work place today?


“I think the same as those I would give to teenage myself.

I would also say that, once settled in the workplace, in time you will find a ‘role model’ (male or female) and a mentor (they may be different people) who sees your strengths, is honest about your development needs, and who will help you push forward in the way the is right and achievable for you. I still have a mentor and actually more than one – they are amazing and I wouldn’t be in my role and position without their support and guidance over many years.

And, as I said before, know what success looks like for you and follow that goal”


What would your advice be to young men going into the work place now in a hopefully more gender equal environment?


“Just like women, men need to just be the best version of themselves that they can be. In the workplace, seek to recognise what you personally bring to the team and why the team as a collective is better off with you in it – then focus on that, have the impact you want to and are able to have.

The point is that men are a hugely important part of the diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace – the focus is on equality for all – in the teams I have been part of over the years, by far and away the most successful teams are those with a mixture of genders as well as a wider aspect of diversity including culture, beliefs and social backgrounds – that diversity of thought brings innovation and collaboration which makes us more successful.”


What in the world concerns you most at the moment as a woman?


“I would go back to my comment on safety. I do worry that the world today does not feel safe for many, including many women – we need to work tirelessly to protect that sense of safety through education, tolerance of each other and lack of tolerance for those who seek to destroy that safe environment. If we all (individually, as part of groups and as part of organisations) play our roles, we can make a huge difference.”


And finally, who is your biggest female inspiration?


“This is a hard one – I could say my Mum and that would be true. I could call out a couple of amazing senior women at work who are a complete inspiration to me. I could namecheck a couple of high profile women in the public eye whose impact has been incredible.

But based on the last few years, particularly the last 2 or 3, I would say my two daughters – both now young adults, they are an absolute inspiration – the way they continually learn to recognise their clear strengths, the way they tackle their fears, the way they seek help when needed in the right way, the way they, as many teenagers have to do these days, live in a world of scrutiny in the face of social media where a ‘perfect life’ portrayed makes us all doubt the validity of our own lives (even though we know that that portrayal is not always the reality). Their natural beauty inside really shines through as they get older and as young adults, their ethics and passion are clear to see. I am so proud of them, learn a lot from them and they are my complete inspiration.”


I couldn’t agree more on the last point! I hope this conversation has shown how the world is changing, there are reasons to be hopeful. You really can have it all as a woman; there is no need to restrict yourself or your goals just because you are a woman. It is an exciting prospect to be able to enter the workplace as a young woman nowadays in a hopefully much more equal and diverse environment with more women at the top to look up to!


Please look after yourselves over the winter period. GINA is always here to help!


Lots of love and hugs as ever,

Your GINA sister xoxo