Roughly 25% of CAs(SA) are women. The percentage of employed women CAs(SA) is even lower. Statistics from universities, institutes and the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms can attest that the relative dearth of employed women CAs(SA) is not a question of inferior intellect; in fact, in some cases women pass exams easier and make better accountants than men. The low percentage of qualified women can be attributed to the fact that, historically, a larger number of men have chosen to qualify as CAs(SA) than women. However, the relatively high ‘drop-out’ rate of women CAs(SA) out of employment is alarming.

The most obvious reason for this discrepancy is that women tend to put their careers on hold (or terminate them entirely) to have children. Women also follow partners who are transferred or who change careers. Many men are still the main bread-winners thus reducing the obligation on their partners to contribute financially. Thus, women generally require more flexibility.

Doug Jones, Finance Director of Makro, says his wife Robyn, a mother of two, who was recently placed at Masazane Capital, is a ‘big four’ trained CA(SA) who has worked extensively in the profession, but who needed a ‘reduced-hours’ post because of their children. “Being able to combine the role of a mother with that of a professional enables Robyn to positively contribute to the children’s development (as she is there more hours than I can ever be) as well as play to her professional strengths. In Robyn’s case this balance enables her to enhance her self-worth, take responsibility and grow all areas of her life. Robyn has achieved great recognition for the value she has added and efficiency with which she has worked on her ‘reduced hours’ basis. As her partner, I am most proud of what a great mother she is but also of the fact that she has done well and has achieved a flexible solution for herself and the family.”

Working mums’ main drivers

Any child psychologist will highlight the importance of early development in children – and few individuals are better positioned to stimulate and support this development than fathers or mothers who have a proprietary interest in their children. So why do some women choose to continue working after starting a family? Various drivers are involved, including the need to:

  • generate self-worth,
  • earn income; be self-sufficient and have the ability ‘to make choices’,
  • maintain their own identity,
  • be recognised – for output, not just for hours worked,
  • have an ‘anchor’ and a sense of belonging; have a continued environmental stability when life is changing; be part of a team, and
  • enjoy continued professional development; ‘keep the oar in’ and remain eligible once the kids have grown up.

South Africa behind the curve

SA is generally unaccepting of:

  • the job-share concept,
  • reduced hours and three-day weeks,
  • maternity leave and children leave, and
  • working from home after hours.

The UK and other developed countries are highly geared towards women who wish to continue their careers while accommodating family responsibilities. In fact, it is so far advanced that a large number of businesses and countries are offering flexibility to fathers who want to do the same.

Andre du Plessis, CEO of Liberty Individual Life, agrees that employing a ‘mom’ is beneficial and critical to our economy. “In our skills-scarce and growing South African market, large companies like Liberty simply cannot explicitly exclude people with skills; we must actively encourage talent acquisition, and ‘working mums’ is one component area we will pursue.

’Working mums’ are better suited to project work which is capable of planned scheduling such as (but not limited to) project accounting, development, strategic research, legal and other roles which require a ‘knowledge worker’.  In my experience, reduced-hours employees are generally not as well suited to full-time operational roles, client service roles, month-end deadline-driven roles or general management of a large department. Often these types of roles require either constant availability or extremely long hours at certain peak periods and for that reason they may not suit a mother with other commitments. I must stress that this is in general and not an absolute rule.”

He adds that the most important factor is the person: they have to be a self-starter, a disciplined planner and an efficient executor of scheduled tasks. From my experience, they typically excel because they are highly output driven, they tend to plan better, and efficiency therefore improves, in terms of output per hour. There are currently relatively few ‘working mums’ in the business but their contribution adds immense value in certain circumstances and therefore should be encouraged.

South African companies are
missing out

South African companies are missing a huge opportunity. We are ten years behind our international counterparts and thus ‘living in the dark ages’. Retaining (or even hiring) a ‘working mum’ has considerable advantages for her boss and the company:

  • ‘working mums’ work really hard for concentrated time periods (no chatter, coffee-machine idle time and long lunches). Their productivity ratio (output: hours worked) generally increases!
  • By accommodating a ‘working mum’ you engender loyalty and buy-in; you are respected for ‘new age’ thinking.
  • Committing to the long-term is logical – there is a high likelihood that she will resume full-time work when the kids grow up.
  • Continuity – it is better keeping strong people whom you know; they also know your business.
  • You avoid spending time re-hiring and associated recruitment costs.

Anton Apps CA(SA), Director of antonapps Pty (Ltd).