Simon Coulton, Head of Sydney Audit at Grant Thornton, is proud that diversity has been a top priority for his team for the past seven years.
They have seen many successes as a result – for their people, their clients, and the firm as a whole – and now, pleasingly, it’s just part of the fabric of how they do business.
“I think diversity is something that we do naturally in our team. A long time ago we recognised there are a lot of different places that talent comes from. People from different backgrounds and life experiences. And, of course, women make up a large part of that.
“We want to keep talented people – there’s a positive knock-on effect for everyone. Therefore, enabling flexible working is a no-brainer. And flexibility is not just about women: it’s doing what we need to do to keep the best people, whether they are juggling family or other commitments and interests.”
Reflecting on how the team is now, Simon says it took time and dedication to get where they are.
“There are very obvious benefits with diversity: the value in different opinions and perspectives that result in better outcomes. I think having a good representation of senior women in our business is a big part of that.
“The head of our business when I started was an absolute gender diversity advocate. She encouraged us to challenge the status quo around diversity and ask ‘why not?’.
“That might sound basic but doing that over a long period of time grew momentum. And it became the culture of the leadership table,” he said.
Simon believes clients get the best advice and people working with them as a result.
“We are conscious of our team composition and getting the balance right for clients. Given our long-term focus on promoting diversity and supporting our best people to be able to grow with the firm, diverse teams made up of the best people just naturally happens."
Simon Coulton, Partner - Grant Thornton Australia
“This is the reality when you have a large team with a lot of very senior women. You don’t have to think about it too much,” he said.
Another benefit of having a diverse workplace that supports its best people is the ‘stickiness’ it creates.
“People remain loyal when they know you have true flexibility. They still have to juggle a lot, but without pressure when it gets difficult. You can attract better people for it.
“We now have a whole bunch of senior females, largely working mums, in our team and no pipeline issue. Our focus is working,” he said.
There are not-so-obvious benefits of diversity and flexibility, which Simon believes are just as important. The challenge can sometimes be making sure everyone sees the value.
“By keeping the best people in your business, younger team members have access to incredible mentors who can teach them stuff they wouldn’t have otherwise. The coaching piece can sometimes be invisible but is so important. You retain the knowledge and the training you invested in your people.
“You might sometimes get the question from young team members: ‘what’s in it for me?’ They may have fewer commitments outside the workplace and can’t see the obvious benefits they also receive.
“But an inclusive workplace can translate into flexibility in other areas and reflects what society generally expects these days. It’s showing them that flexibility is more than just family commitments. It can be ‘I’ve got a sport to play or another interest I need to fit into my working life’.
“Ultimately it comes down to education as well as the acceptance and encouragement of flexibility. And not questioning others’ working style if they are still performing: it’s making small adjustments to your own work style to ensure its success because it is worth it,” he said.
Simon thinks that seeing the professional benefits of flexibility and personally experiencing the challenge of juggling a lot of outside responsibilities have shaped his view and impacted the way he works.
“There’s a Director in my team who recently went on parental leave. I am her sponsor and as we were going through her business case for the promotion she told me she was pregnant. I don’t remember a whole lot about that conversation besides saying ‘that’s great, congratulations’.
“I have since learned she was concerned it would affect or influence her promotion to Director. It definitely didn’t. In my mind, it wasn’t a factor in the process. She said to me recently how important that was to her.
“I really believe all the senior guys in our team would act the same way. It’s just the way we are, which is something to be pretty proud of I think.”