When I qualified as a CA(SA) nearly 13 years ago, I found that there was a dearth of African women in this particular profession, and I quickly realised that in order to change that, we would need to grow a strong support mechanism for aspirant and newly qualified women CAs(SA).

My impression at the time was that because there were so few women in the profession, the same small pool of women were gaining all the opportunities and experiences, but with very little interaction with newer entries into the sector. We were not sharing our experiences with newly qualified women who need that type of mentorship and network opportunities.

This impression led directly to the formation of the African Women Chartered Accountant Forum (AWCA) in 2002. The AWCA has as its vision, the acceleration and advancement of qualified and aspirant African women CAs(SA),

When the AWCA was first formed, we realised that it would be vital to encourage young female learners to consider the CA(SA) profession as  the statistics at the time pertaining to the number of black women CAs(SA) were shocking. Only 1.9% of membership black women in the profession, so we set out to engage with learners at various high schools to encourage a steady growth of aspirant CAs(SA) into the sector.

This is such an important step as it is the beginning of making sure transformation in the workplace and in the profession has real targets and real growth. This is the underpinning mission of the AWCA: acknowledging that we as individual professionals make an effort to begin to address the dearth of  women in our profession, create support networks and develop more women-friendly workplaces.

The AWCA, through this mission, provides real choices to young women despite their backgrounds, and despite the limitations many of our societies and cultures place on them. The biggest challenge we therefore need to address is mindset. Transformation must begin in the homes, with our families first. Society is slower than business on the uptake that women and men should be coexisting and supporting one another.

Another area of challenge for real transformation in the profession is ensuring that the aspirant CAs(SA) we identify are not excluded from enjoying the spoils this profession has to offer, because they cannot afford to pursue this world-class professional  designation.  In light of this challenge, we’ve started a bursary fund for talented young aspirant CAs(SA) and to date we have seven women  at university on AWCA bursaries.

A final challenge we face in the profession is getting rid of the career limitations many professionals place on the CA(SA) designation. We’ve found that there is a perception out there that the highest position that can be obtained is that of a financial manager. This is a myth and a fallacy that we’re very determined to scrap as there is evidence within the profession that our designation is sought after all around the world, and that with hard work, you can go from being a CFO to CEO in good time. But we must also caution our young entrants into the profession that while fast-tracking is an imperative, experience is the pivotal ingredient to high earning senior posts.

I have a saying that says: if you want to reach the top floor, you need to understand that the lift is broken – so take the stairs. It might take a bit longer, but you will get there fitter, more experienced and more capable.

The CA(SA) profession is a specialised environment that requires continuous technical development, so you need to realise that you can no longer expect people to treat you nicely or differently just because you are a woman, it is up to you to stand up, face the challenges and get going!

Sindi Koyana CA(SA) is the Head of Risk, Regulatory & Public Policy at Ernst & Young and the Chair of the African Women’s Chartered Accountants (AWCA) forum.