Interview: Mairi McInnes, PwC Scotland’s place and purpose lead, on accelerating the journey to gender equality in the workplace

Executive sees collaboration as key lever to accelerate progress.

Among the titles Mairi McInnes holds at professional services giant PwC include place and purpose lead for its Scottish operations, something she deems a privilege and passion of hers. And she is also a licence holder of TEDx that enables people to host talks that “spark conversations in their communities”.

She says: “The major thing that TEDx taught me was the value in bringing together all walks of life – the whole foundation of TEDx is to give a platform to voices that don't otherwise have one. And I think that is very, very important as we look at both gender inclusion and social mobility.” Indeed, one TEDx presentation McInnes spearheaded was focused on “how do we, as women, show up for ourselves and for others in our lives, which was really empowering”.

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The Edinburgh-based executive commented when PwC in February released its latest Women in Work Index, showing that Scotland secured the top spot among the UK’s nations and regions, thanks to an overall score increase of 3.1 points, largely driven by an increase in the female labour force participation rate to 74.9 per cent in 2022 from 73.2 per cent in 2021.

McInnes cheers Scotland’s performance as “fantastic”, but acknowledges that the UK as a whole suffered a somewhat bumpier ride, slipping four places to 17th on the OECD Index, the largest annual fall in rankings experienced by any of the 33 OECD countries covered. “There's a lot of messages for us to take caution and action, in terms of how we respond to some of the things which the index revealed to us,” she says. “But from a Scottish perspective, it’s certainly very encouraging.”

PwC additionally found that Scotland recorded the lowest gap in participation rates between men and women across the UK as of 2022, at 4.4 per cent, which McInnes opines is “hopefully a great testament to” some of the relevant efforts and initiatives by her employer. “We have a very robust plan around what we're trying to do around gender equity. And we take that very seriously,” she says.

The Big Four accountancy firm to mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) in March highlighted relevant statistics from its Global Hopes and Fears Survey 2023 that took the temperature of about 54,000 workers across 46 countries. That includes women reporting higher levels of inclusive decision making (+3 points), for example, than in the previous year.

McInnes herself spent this year’s IWD at an event with parties including Scottish Financial Enterprise, and shared her story alongside other key women in business. She also cites the importance of Tech She Can, a PwC-backed initiative to turbocharge the role of girls and women in the tech sector.

'We have a very robust plan around what we're trying to do around gender equity. And we take that very seriously,' says the businesswoman of PwC. Picture: contributed.'We have a very robust plan around what we're trying to do around gender equity. And we take that very seriously,' says the businesswoman of PwC. Picture: contributed.
'We have a very robust plan around what we're trying to do around gender equity. And we take that very seriously,' says the businesswoman of PwC. Picture: contributed.

She believes in bringing together government, not-for-profit organisations, the third sector, and business to address common issues and goals, “and really drive the energy required to effect change”. Such opportunities to do so on gender “are better than they've ever been – and that is really exciting for Scotland”.

Relevant initiatives in Scotland include Egg, billed as the largest platform north of the Border connecting, supporting, and celebrating women, rolling out roadshows on female entrepreneurship as a result of the independent review Pathways: A New Approach for Women in Entrepreneurship by Ana Stewart that was commissioned by the Scottish Government.

Furthermore, Edinburgh-based Equity Gap was recently named Scotland's most frequent backer of female-owned firms, while Napier University and Women's Enterprise Scotland have just teamed up for a new initiative aimed at “nurturing the next generation of women leaders and innovators”. Separately, a report has found that fintech businesses with female founders are achieving markedly greater turnover growth than those with only men, while PwC Scotland in July last year made 12 director promotions, half of whom were women, while almost 50 per cent of its UK workforce altogether is female

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McInnes has been with PwC since 2008 (“in that time, it's been diverse, it's been dynamic, it's changed a lot”), and her current role also includes serving as the lead clients and industry director for the group's global private equity, real assets, and sovereign investment funds industry. She returned to her native Scotland in 2021 after several years working in Asia, an experience she says gave her an in-depth understanding of the benefits of a melting pot of people of different cultures and backgrounds. “My life is all the richer for that experience.”

In terms of powering up the inclusion and empowerment of women in the workplace, she cites the importance of continuing to tackle the issues behind pay penalties, and openly discussing key relevant issues such as the menopause with male allies on board. “It's got to be something that we do united, because it's about us as a shared workforce.”

Both McInnes and PwC see that there is still much to be done on driving gender equality at work, and much data on the issue is sobering, such as the firm calculating that if women no longer faced a gender pay penalty, their collective pay packets could be up to £55 billion bigger every year across the UK.

“I think it’s sobering – but I think it's also exciting, because I do genuinely think that we should be almost fairly unapologetic about the business and economic benefits of this,” she says. “We should do it because it's the right thing to do. But we should do it also because it's good for business, and it's good for the economy.”

On the back of the recent Women in Work Index data, “I think Scotland now has a phenomenal opportunity, because of its position across the regions to stay ahead… I think it is important for Scotland to challenge itself and use that as a platform to continue to be at the top and to continue to be an attractive place for women to come and live and work and thrive.”



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