“Allyship is about calling things out” Susannah Simpson, Private Business Tax Partner

Susannah Simpson, a private business tax partner at PwC and IoD Scotland diversity lead, hopes the barriers she has broken down in her own corporate career will help the women who come behind her. She believes passionately in the power of allyship but is concerned that ‘cancel culture’ could restrict organisations’ diversity efforts.

Breaking down barriers does not rest solely on the shoulders of those who experience them. Looking back on my career now I can identify that the support I received from my male co-workers was an invaluable form of allyship. I used to think that being an ally was just being educated and empathetic, but it requires action. You need to be proactive, call things out and put yourself out there for someone else.

I began my career as a lawyer almost twenty-five years ago in a very male dominated legal world which was very typical for the time. Although my male counterparts were incredibly supportive, I felt I had hit a glass ceiling. I wanted to have my own clients and network, so when I was approached by an accountancy firm, I relished the chance to try a new path.

Soon after joining PwC, an established male colleague took me under his wing and encouraged me to succeed. His trust in me helped instil confidence in myself. When I became pregnant during my promotion to partner, I was concerned this would affect my progress as the interviews were scheduled during my maternity leave. Thankfully the firm recognised the importance of opening doors for women and moved heaven and earth to work around my (now 9 year old’s!) timings. I completed my panel interview at 38 weeks pregnant and came back to work as partner.

I feel a certain responsibility to break down any barriers I experience so that women who follow in my footsteps don’t have to do the same. However, I also recognise that I have a driven personality and not everyone operates in the same way. Joining the ‘Women in Deals’ network at PwC has allowed me to encourage the upcoming leaders to raise the profile externally to the firm of diversity and recognise the massive benefits from more flexible working hours during deals and diverse teams to ensure caregivers of all types have access to these high paid roles.

When I joined IoD Scotland I was able to expand my knowledge about allyship and diversity and inclusion. My original purpose for joining was networking but when I was offered the role of diversity lead, I witnessed how IoD Scotland encourages diversity through “drains up” analysis of their own membership basis and recognition of a need to lead and role model on change and by reaching out to underrepresented communities to join. This inspired me to educate others by hosting a series of ‘LinkedIn Live’ sessions on the topics of allyship and inclusion.

Cancel culture can make individuals fearful of saying the wrong thing and organisations can become unduly cautious, particularly small and medium-sized businesses that might not have access to the same level of knowledge as the corporate giants. The IoD is on hand to help members feel confident in their decisions on matters from diversity to governance. As well as training and networking, it provides an information service offering a range of business advice.

I understand it can be daunting to be to an ally and in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, but my advice to business leaders who are afraid is that the worst thing you can do is nothing. Recognising your own privilege and accepting it’s a journey where you won’t always have the answer is a good place to start.

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