[IMGCAP(1)]This past April, I stepped onstage to deliver the keynote address to one of my firm’s largest client conferences for tax. I addressed a group of 1,200 or more professionals almost evenly balanced between men and women. In fact, in EY’s own tax practice, women represent 52 percent of the professionals.

When I attended my first tax conference as an intern at our predecessor, Ernst & Whinney, over 30 years ago, I was one of a handful of women in the audience.

Achieving gender parity in leadership does not happen overnight, but we are dedicated to making fast progress. In 2015, 30 percent of our professionals promoted to partners worldwide were women, up from 26 percent in 2013. This past year, our U.S. tax practice leads the Big Four with 27 percent female partners. That’s a significant improvement from the 1990s, when only 6 percent of all partners in the firm were women.

So what’s the formula for opening the doors and encouraging women to move into leadership positions to achieve gender parity in the workplace?

We have found success with three key directives that tear down traditional barriers:

Clear paths to leadership. Over the past decade, initiatives to help women advance their careers have proliferated. We take a multi-faceted approach: Mentoring programs, a Professional Women’s Network and Career Watch—a program that assigns high-potential female professionals to top clients and projects, followed by new opportunities to help them grow and excel.

Work/life balance and flexibility for both men and women. All professionals, both men and women, should be encouraged by all businesses to find the best way to integrate their lives into their work, whether that means adopting flexible schedules or pursuing passions. And it’s not just about moms with young children. Flexibility for men helps take household duties off of women, which in turn allows them more flexibility to advance their careers.

A supportive workplace culture. It’s important for an organization to set the tone at the top by establishing and widely communicating the business case for diversity and inclusion. Large organizations, in particular, should proactively seek to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias through training and by embedding diversity and inclusiveness, as well as flexibility, in all aspects of their culture, processes and programs. Build an inclusive culture that recognizes broad diversity and values collaboration and innovative thinking. Most women naturally thrive in these types of environments—and studies show that most men do, too.

Does it work! Indeed, this commitment to fostering an inclusive culture played a key role in the rise of countless women. In addition to my own success, two standouts at EY now hold leadership positions in two of our largest markets—Alycia Calvert, managing partner of tax for Canada, and Tatiana de Ponte as managing partner for Brazil. They have impacted the business and also inspired their teams toward creating opportunity.

Appreciative of our opportunities and success, Alycia, Tatiana and I all believe in paying it forward, a practice that has benefited us. As women rise, the true opportunity for parity comes from their helping others, always reaching up the career ladder with one hand, and reaching back with the other hand to lift other professionals up. Coach, mentor and stress the value of building your own personal brand and of being authentic in everything you do.

And as you rise, it is important to remember your personal life and personal commitments, not treat them like a handicap. For Alycia, Tatiana and I, spending time with family and pursuing our passions outside the office are traits that help all three of us bring more energy to our daily jobs. As more women move into leadership roles in all industries, we will not only be taking a major step toward closing the gender-parity gap, but also helping to make the working world a better place for men and women.

Kate Barton is EY Americas' vice chair of tax services.

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