The accounting profession has long been perceived as a profession for men in grey suits. But this is a professional stereotype that is fast changing, and rightly so.
Women CAN make it in this “cut-throat” profession. The beauty about it all is that we do not have to be replicas of men; we just have to be ourselves because it is then that we offer the profession what is best about us.
In speaking for the women in the profession, I ask myself, what is the role of the women in the profession, have women been successful or have we, as women, been replicas of men?
The role of women in the profession
Is the role of the woman in the profession any different from that of a man? I would argue that the fundamental role is not different. From a firm’s perspective, for admission to partnership, it is critical that there be a business case (this is the same for both women and men). Women are here to do a specific job and get our hands dirty, just like men. So, what sets us apart from our male counterparts?
What sets us as women apart in the profession is what would set most women apart from most men in any profession because women generally tend to have similar characteristics.
Women bring much needed diversity to the workplace. Can you imagine a company or a firm that only had male employees? It is generally understood that a diversified workforce, when managed effectively, produces better results than a homogenous one.
Most women are born mentors and are very nurturing. This means that women play the mentoring role without even being conscious of it. I suppose this is because some are mothers while others are sisters, aunts etc. and are accustomed to looking after others. This has a positive spin-off for the profession because as more women progress and stay within the profession, especially at partner level, greater numbers of women will stay within the profession as they have someone to look up to. It has also been argued by Marcella Lucky in the Business Forum publication of 22 June 1998 that “utilising women as partners in firms would lead to an increase in the number of female partners because research in the US has shown that having a partner as a mentor in a public firm increases the probability that an employee will stay with the firm and thus have a chance for promotion”. Thus women play the role of attracting others to the profession and also ensuring their retention.
Most women are “open”. By this I mean they share their thoughts, knowledge and experiences more openly whether in a “teaching” role or a “counselling” role. Women bring all of themselves into what they are doing. In counselling specifically it helps as it shows the true-self and thus makes women more believable and establishes credibility. The counselled person then can be more open about themselves and their experiences such that real solutions can be implemented. This openness also shows genuine interest in people and everyone loves feeling valued.
Women bring creativity to the profession. This means that firms are in a plum position of having both a technical and a creative person. This means that there is the potential of advancing and coming up with new ways of doing business.
Women are inspirational. Whenever a woman sees another at a higher level, she gets inspired. But also when women are in top positions they tend to consciously motivate and groom others that are not at that position yet. There is however a perception in some quarters that women “who have made it” kick the corporate ladder so that others cannot climb up as well. I would argue that even though there might be a small percentage of women who do this, it is not the norm. I have talked to and met many successful women in the profession and all are passionate about the advancement of other women.
There is a definite role for women in the profession, other than the “business case”. Smart firms however realise that this is the whole package of the “business case” as all of these character strengths of women are much desired for the upward advancement and longevity of the firms.
The successes of women and the successes they have been responsible for
“To follow without halt, one aim; there is the secret of success. And success? What is it? I do not find it in the applause of the theatre; it lies rather in the satisfaction of accomplishment” said Anna Pavlova, who was a great Russian ballerina. This quote coins the essence of what success is.
There is the “outward success” denoted here by the applause of the theatre, and the “inward success” which is personal. You get this inward success when you know that you have done a job well. I would argue that most women experience the inward success more than the “applause of the theatre” but there are some women in the profession who have even managed the “applause” success.
There are some women within the profession that could be singled out as being very successful. Names that come to my mind are (there are many others) :
- Nonkululeko Gobodo — who was the first Black woman chartered accountant and the founder of Gobodo Inc.
- Sindi Zilwa – the CEO of Nkonki Inc.
- Lindani Dhlamini – the CEO of Xabiso Chartered Accountants
- Zodwa Manase – CEO of Manase & Associates.
We also have women in the big accounting firms who are hailed as being successful and the names that immediately come to my mind are:
- Tshidi Mokgabudi – Executive partner at KPMG
- Sindi Koyana – a member of the Executive committee at Ernst & Young, and
- Futhi Mtoba – the Chairman of Deloitte.
All of these women are role models and mentors whether they are fully conscious of that or not. It is amazing to note how some if not most of them are involved in some way or another in uplifting communities through various initiatives.
These women and many other unsung heroines are constantly sacrificing themselves to make sure that other people make it. The sacrifices could be viewed as somehow hindering the progress that women could achieve in the accounting profession. I however think that the women concerned view them as the necessary deposits that they have to make to ensure the sustainability of the profession and a brighter future for the next generations. We need to hail all these truly exceptional women who “lift as they climb”.
Are women in the profession replicas of men?
There is a saying that goes: “to fit in you must walk the walk and talk the talk”.
Looking at the women in the profession, I think this does not necessarily apply. Of the women that have been specifically mentioned in this article, I will argue that none of them have gotten to where they are because they were emulating a certain man. They would otherwise not have coped with the demands placed on them by society and the profession. They had to bring in their “authentic selves” to make the strides that they have made. This is true of the many women in the profession. As women we have come to accept ourselves as who we are and have long stopped trying to fit in. Instead we have influenced firms to change their culture so that we are comfortable in our environments, and that is why most firms have flexi-time and half-day programmes.
We could however, as women, learn a thing or two from men. The one thing I would encourage women to learn is to be “self-promotional”!
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek” – Barack Obama.
As women we have come to realise this and many women are change agents wherever they are. We are changing the cultures of the organisations we work for and more importantly we are changing the preconceptions that others have of us. We need to always realise that as women, we CAN and yes, we SHALL.
Tantie Kentane CA(SA), Director: Department of Professional Practice, KPMG.