Women at BDO: A discussion with Jane Couchman

What is most rewarding about your role at BDO?

I am incredibly fortunate to have a chance to truly influence and help BDO continue growing as an amazing group of people delivering value to our clients and the broader community.

My role has also been referred to as ‘Chief of Engagement’, which describes much about what is important in my role and what excites and challenges me. I cannot fulfil my role without engaging with many stakeholders and helping to provide clarity of our priorities, so I love working with as many people as I can across our organisation.

What progress have you seen on gender equality throughout your career?

In my life and career, I have witnessed phenomenal progress, although we still have a long way to go. Growing up, I had the most important role models possible – both of my parents worked full time in senior leadership roles and were supportive and involved parents to my sister and me. However, my mother faced challenges and conditions which still horrify me to this day. It makes me realise how much we have changed and shifted our expectations as a society

During my career, I have had instrumental leaders who have challenged the status quo and supported me every step of the way. I have grabbed onto these opportunities and made the most from them.

From financial support of my MBA, which I studied in the evenings while having my first child and working as a management consultant; leading senior executive discussions in a male-dominated global mining sector as a young female; and the support I have experienced to work four days a week at BDO. The progress I have witnessed has been based on the ability of organisations and leaders to seek feedback and truly listen to their people. 

Why do you believe gender equality is so important?

For me gender equality is fundamental, however, equality goes beyond gender. For organisations and communities to prosper, we genuinely need to be open and inclusive of all mindsets, backgrounds, thinking styles and gender.

Gender equality, more specifically, takes decades and lifetimes to shift perspectives, expectations and outcomes, so it’s incumbent on all of us to take part in the role of gender equality. The shift is everyone’s responsibility.

What value do you think women bring to leadership?

Of course women bring a huge amount of value to leadership. Historically and currently, women are under-presented in senior and leadership positions. I would always encourage women just to be themselves.

Every women is different, however, studies show that most bring higher levels of empathy, creativity, self-awareness and empowering others before themselves to leadership roles. We shouldn’t fight against this; instead we should utilise and value it. Stop comparing women to men and ensure women have a seat and a voice. As the opportunities to have a seat and a voice increase, women need to rely on being their authentic selves.

What do you think future opportunities look like for females in our industry?

Our future is so bright. Firstly, our talent coming through is not gender biased. I have two school age daughters who are being empowered and educated as leaders of the future. Gender doesn’t get discussed, moreover, their ability to tackle and be resilient in any situation. They are experiencing and being equipped for challenging times and their ability to react will be valued, more so than their gender.

Plus, our industry is fortunate to have a gender-neutral perception of our roles. All genders can be advisers of the future in our industry. Our biggest challenge, however, is to focus on greater gender equality in senior and leadership roles. Until we truly tackle this, as an industry, we will lose talent through the journey.

How would you suggest workplaces break the bias against gender equality?

Three ways:

  1. Engage: speak to all current employees, prospective employees, plus current and future leaders to understand their views, expectations and requirements to add value and contribute fully.
  2. Listen & learn: we all need to get better at listening. We are a bunch of problem-solvers and jump to solutions. More time should be spent engaging and listening, then learning and pivoting based on these insights. Truly listen to your people.
  3. Act: step up and give our people opportunities. Take risks and challenge the status quo. Create new roles, challenge KPIs, and evaluate business models. I wouldn’t be in the role I am without the genuine support of key mentors and leaders, encouraging and supporting me every step of the way. My role is to act and pay this forward by enabling others to have a seat and voice.