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Columnists

It’s time for women accountants to rise up the career ladder

female mentor
Having female mentors is particularly important in a male-dominated profession. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Skilled finance professionals remain in high demand and the competition for them is intensifying both on a national and global scale. In Kenya and across the globe, women represent a large slice of this talent pool.

They are becoming central to meeting the combined challenges of an ageing workforce, falling birth rates and a skills shortage. As Kenya’s business community grapples with an ageing workforce, falling birth rates and skills shortages, the pool of talented female professionals is growing. This includes accountancy, as more women are entering the profession.

Accountancy, like many other professions, has historically been male-dominated. The world’s first female chartered accountant, Mary Harris-Smith, was only admitted as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in 1920, nearly 40 years after the institute was founded.

This male dominance made it harder for some women to progress in their careers, despite there being more educated women in business than ever before.

The technical and mathematical characteristics associated with accountancy have traditionally been considered more ‘male-oriented’. These stereotypes can make it harder for women to imagine themselves in – and thus apply for - accountancy roles.

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A lack of women visible in senior roles may also discourage others from entering the profession. However, female finance professionals in Kenya should not be deterred from pursuing their career goals, and for inspiration should look to some high-flying women who have made their presence firmly felt.

Take Agnes Odhiambo, the first person to serve as the Government’s Controller of Budget. The office is charged with ensuring that the law is abided by in the administration of devolved funds, a role that requires the development of proper account reporting procedures. The controller must also present quarterly reports to Parliament.

Another Kenyan woman blazing the trail at the upper echelons of the accounting profession is Nancy Onyango, the Director of the Office of Internal Audit and Inspection at the International Monetary Fund.

These women are part of the growing number of female accountants in Kenya who are opening new doors for others like them in the field. There is, however, much more to be done.

More balanced representation of men and women at senior levels will only come with changes to organisational structures. Firms need to consider the challenges in a wider context, and explore the reasons why female talent is not reaching leadership and management positions.

There is also a need for better mentoring of young female accounting professionals, providing them with role models to look up to. Initiatives such as the Association of Women Accountants in Kenya provide networking and support.

If there are more mentors for female staff and female accountants, more women may have a better chance at being successful in the profession.

Having female mentors is particularly important in a male-dominated profession. Women who see their peers succeed in management positions and leadership roles recognise that barriers to success can be overcome.

The writer is Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales President.

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