Interview:

Women at BDO: A Discussion with Maryanne Carter

28 February 2020

At BDO, we're committed to supporting our professional women and driving their success. From graduates to partners, we help women build relationships and create well-defined career paths through networking events, coaching, and professional development opportunities.

To give you an inside look into what it’s like to be a woman in accounting today – and at BDO – we sat down with some of our talented professionals to hear about their experiences as women in business, including, mentorship, gender-related roadblocks they’ve had to overcome and the importance of diversity in leadership.

Below is our third interviewee – Maryanne Carter, Associate Director in the People Advisory Team in Sydney.

 

Good Morning Maryanne! Thanks for sitting down with me today, could you tell me a bit about your role here at BDO in Sydney.

I am part of the People Advisory team. Fundamental to what we do is our knowledge that people build futures. Whether you are talking about the future of a team or an entire organisation we know that THE most critical success factor for any organisation is their people.

I work with talented people who help organisations look at what is holding them back from being the most successful organisation they can be. We help them wade through all the information they have about what is working or not working and look at the 2 or 3 things they could do to really unleash their performance.

We love to challenge a leader’s thinking and help them bring to life the vision they have for their company.

What do you enjoy most about your position?

Taking the time to really understand our clients and get to the root cause of their problems with my team. We come from a diverse range of backgrounds and when we work together, it really is electric – we debate and challenge and push each other and our diversity of thinking really makes sure we get to an answer that is far more impactful than anything we could have done on our own.

I also love the feedback we receive from our clients when we deliver our work and they see the positive impact it’s having on their business. Hearing from them how amazing the work is, that’s incredibly rewarding.

So, how did you get to where you are today? Did anyone mentor you as a professional, early in your career?

Absolutely, I have had many mentors along the way.

My first mentor was my father. Giving me the confidence I needed, by telling me I could achieve anything. 

As I began to have children I leaned on my mother and mother-in law’s advice on how best to navigate my family and my work.

As I continued my journey, new connections opened up opportunities – with some people believing in me more than I believed in myself. One key supporter for me was my HR Leader when I was working in Medical Devices, he really believed in me and pushed me to take on an opportunity that I never would have backed myself for if he hadn’t encouraged me. This took me overseas and placed me on my first management team, in one of the largest medical device companies in the world, before I was 30. 

Another person who I have now worked with 3 times in my career is Jenine Waters. Jenine leads our People Advisory team and we met when I was in one of my first HR roles. Over the years we have moved to different organisations but we have always stayed in contact and she has encouraged and supported me to take on roles in different industries. I think what is great about our friendship is that we challenge each other to become better leaders, to grow and to take risks. 

 What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a career in your field?

If you are curious and like to understand the ‘why’ in business, BDO is the perfect place for you.

If you can identify pragmatic solutions to complex problems, BDO is the place for you.

At BDO we have such a great mix of people. There are those with lots of ideas and who love bringing them to life; there are those who love solving problems through the technology, people or process lens; and there are those who are driven to connect these different approaches together to deliver an amazing way forward for our clients.

Do you feel that you have ever made sacrifices personally and professionally? How do you find a work/life balance?

I personally object to the phrase ‘work/life’ balance. Balancing is an act that requires focus on perfect harmony and alignment, and in my mind conjures up images of walking on a tight rope - where I could fall at any time.

To me, this ‘balancing act’ wastes time on really living my life.

When I started having children I remember thinking, I could have it all. I would be the one that does everything and has everything. When I realised this wasn’t the case, I felt really frustrated that I wasn’t able to do everything. However, in hindsight, I'm really grateful for the fact that I was not able to do everything I thought I should be doing. Although I did not recognise it at the time, it opened different doors for me.

Now, the fact that I am living a full life outside of work and a full life inside of work means my approach to life is ‘bigger’. I have more time to connect different dots for people. I don't take work too seriously and I understand people have a life.

I think this mutual understanding is everyone’s responsibility. 

When you take a step back and think about the impact you have on other people you can see whether you allow others to be themselves. Do they have space to voice their opinion and let it be heard? At the end of the day when you give mutual understanding and are kind to someone else's circumstances, it’s the longest lasting feeling of happiness you will have. Positivity toward people is really a gift to them and to you.

What do you think makes a successful leader? 

That’s easy - a successful leader is someone that serves people. Leadership has very little to do with you, but a lot about what you bring to the table for others.

A good leader is someone who strives to empower their people, by doing all they can to help others be better in their role. A good leader removes roadblocks for their people, so they can grow and be even more amazing. Finally, a good leader works to bring in different thinking and people together to harness innovation.

And why do you think that female leadership and more diverse leadership is important to the future of the firm?

People want to identify with their leaders - so our leaders must be able to identify with us. This can’t happen if there is only one type of leader to relate to. Humans intrinsically place value on social identity, it allows us to evolve and grow.

If there is only one type of leader in your organisation, it’s almost certain that to succeed only one type of employee will be heard. Inclusive diversity in leadership, whether through different nationalities or gender, creates such a rich learning environment and helps paint the picture that the sky is not even the limit for what you can achieve.

As the industry becomes less male-dominated, do you feel like it will become less of an issue? Are we seeing progress?

While headway has been made, we still have a way to go – the gender gap is still a prominent issue across all levels of organisations, and more so at the leadership level.

It must remain a priority on the agenda of boardrooms and policymakers to cut through. Businesses and organisations need more women in leadership and they need more diverse thinking at all levels of organisations.

What do you think the future of accounting looks like? And what are you looking forward to in the future for your own career?

The future is looking very bright and it’s an exciting place to be. Accounting is changing, but it remains critical. There will be more interesting and complex problems to solve, opening the doors for a range of disciplines crossing over to solve complex business problems.

Thank you to Maryanne for your time, and for letting us get to know a little bit more about her career so far!
 

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