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28 February 2014

Top tips for women starting in the accounting profession

This week’s blog is a guest blog from Claire Millar.  Claire joined PwC Ireland’s Asset Management division as a graduate hire last October, and prior to commencing her journey with PwC she completed her dissertation on the leadership gender imbalance in the accountancy profession. 

To mark International Women’s Day this year PwC will release a thought leadership publication focused on the female millennial.  In April, we will drive our global ‘Aspire to Lead’ campaign which aims to support young female talent lean in to their ambition as they make the transition from campus to workplace across the globe.  Claire is a millennial woman currently experiencing this transition so I asked her if she would consider writing a guest blog. 

Claire’s research findings have already drawn attention receiving coverage in one of Accountancy Ireland’s recent publications*.  I thought it would be super interesting to tap into her extensive knowledge on women in the accountancy workplace and ask her to use it to share her top nuggets of advice for the abundance of female millennials also starting out in the profession like Claire. She didn’t disappoint. 

Enjoy

Aoife

***

I won’t lie to you - having completed a dissertation which investigated the gender imbalance in Ireland’s Big 4 professional services firms I did have some concerns that I may be entering a male dominated profession.  My research revealed an imbalance at the partner level with less than 18% of the comprised Big 4 firm partners in Ireland being female. These concerns were soon mitigated as I joined with a gender-balanced graduate intake, saw no shortage of female faces through-out the office and learned that almost 50% of the Asset Management partners at PwC Ireland are female. 

Selecting to focus my dissertation on this topic has also left me with the positive experience of starting my career with insights for which I may otherwise have been in the dark.  For example my research pointed to a number of factors that were found to have a significant influence on a woman’s ability or choice in becoming a partner.  Understanding these factors right from the beginning of my career definitely feels like an advantage and I’m happy that through this blog I can share some of this advice more widely.

You can have it all

To my pleasant surprise, all of the female partners I interviewed had multiple children and they encouraged me that you can have both; a fruitful career and a wonderful family.  Of course, not every woman wants to have children, but it was definitely reassuring, as someone who would like her own brood someday, to know that it is possible to thrive in both aspects of your life.  

I have found it really surprising to meet young women in the profession who already have the mind-set that the time to start a family is also the time to end their careers. Long before even thinking about starting families I am hearing young women look ahead and express concerns that it is a win-lose situation.  They feel they will either thrive in the workplace and be an absent mother, or be a “super-mom” and not reach their full potential in the workplace.

For me, it is vital that young women are educated on the facts surrounding the matter. I say this because prior to completing my dissertation, I was of the (uneducated) opinion that it would be next to impossible to become partner while having children. From the partners I interviewed I know that while it’s not easy, it is definitely possible to thrive as both a mother and a career woman simultaneously.  

GA2802aResearch has found that the dynamic of a traditional household of bread-winning father and stay-at-home mother are changing all the time, with millennials being more much likely to be children of dual-income families.

Findings show that where parents are dual earners in a family, their joint family involvement mean that couples experience high levels of marital satisfaction coupled with low levels of stress.  

As a child of a dual-income family I am inclined to agree. My mother worked all through my childhood (and still does), and I never for a moment felt that she was less of a mother to me than my friends who had mothers at home.

Furthermore, research suggests that having a working mother can benefit all members of the family. Desai et al (2012) found that men in modern marriages, where the wife works outside of the home, are more accepting of female colleagues in the workplace. I also feel that as a direct result, daughters and sons of dual income parents are more likely to adopt the modern attitudes of their parents and be more open to gender diversity at the highest levels in organisations.

The most important lesson I can share is that it is important for young women to “lean-in” to their career early and not to make career decisions today based on the family you may have ten years down the line. If you do hope to have a family someday – arm yourself with the facts so you are not influenced by the myth that women can’t have it all. 

Don’t be afraid to seek advice

My research found that mentors play a pivotal role in helping both men and women to advance in the workplace, and the role of mentoring and sponsorship appeared to be particularly poignant in professional services firms.  Organisations have been establishing formal mentoring programmes for some time now and while these play an important role many of the female partners I interviewed claimed their informal mentors played an equally influential role in their careers.

I cannot say that I have found a mentor at this early stage of my career. However, it is apparent that there are lots of women and men ready to help me through every step of my career journey. My advice to young women starting out in the profession is to utilise the resources available to you via mentors, no matter their gender, grade or career stage.  They have travelled the same career path you are following so they will be able to offer you guidance and support.  Don’t be afraid to ask them for career advice, opportunities, or support.  

Be a feminist

The research I undertook was clear in highlighting that women need to support women. Before completing my dissertation I personally felt there was a negative connotation with the word “feminist” and I certainly believe it to be a term that is painfully misconstrued by women of my generation. My research allowed me to discover the true meaning of the term “feminist”. A feminist is not someone who believes that girls rule the world, (sorry Beyonce), but rather someone who believes in equal political, economic and social rights for both women and men. By supporting each other, women can promote their female colleagues, allowing each other to advance and we should also encourage our male peers to be feminists too.  As young women starting off we need to do three things:

  1. Support each other,
  2. Make sure we view both the men and the women ahead of us in a neutral light.  For example, don’t consider a man’s actions as assertive yet consider the same actions from a woman as aggressive, and
  3. Ask the women ahead of us to share their career stories, by doing this we are armed with the true experiences and won’t fall into the trap of making assumptions like we can’t have it all.

To summarise, understand you can have it all, don’t be afraid to seek advice, and be a feminist – but most importantly live your career for the person you are today, not for the person you might be tomorrow. 

GA2802bClaire

Claire Millar based in Dublin is an associate in PwC Ireland’s Asset Management division.  Prior to starting as a graduate hire with PwC Ireland Claire completed a B.Sc. in Accounting and Finance in DIT Aungier Street before going on to complete the Master of Accounting programme in UCD’s Smurfit School.

 

 

 

*“Through the Glass Ceiling” was published in the February edition of Accountancy Ireland Magazine. An Accountancy Ireland app for mobile devices is free to download and the February edition is available for in-App purchase on Apple. To celebrate International Women’s Day, throughout March 2014, PwC Gender Agenda Blog readers can request free in-app access to the February edition of the journal by emailing subscribe@accountancyireland.ie. Please mention the blog when you email your request.

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