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 celebrate International Women’s Day and to give you an inside look at what it's like to be a woman in accounting – and at BDO – we conducted discussions with some of our most talented professionals. During the conversations, they discussed accounting and their experiences as women in business, and the importance of diversity in leadership.
What do you like most about your position?
I like the flexibility of managing my own diary, the variety of client work and solving problems for my clients, the near-absence of cyclical work, being out and about in the CBD to meet my clients, working with a diverse and motivated team and partnering with people in BDO who have similar high-energy levels and are keen to keep pushing the boundaries on how to best assist our clients – to be true thought-leaders in our space.
Have you ever felt like you had to overcome any gender-related roadblocks in your career (big or small)?
From my days as a graduate until now, I have seen various initiatives pop up to enable women to transition through to the highest levels in organisations. Some of these initiatives are heart-felt and carried by leadership/throughout the organisation, some others ‘felt’ more like window-dressing to me. In those organisations there are gender-related roadblocks, which I have experienced. Especially in situations where there wasn’t a lot more than emails and PowerPoints making statements - as opposed to actual processes to eliminate unconscious biases that we all have, an openness to diverse viewpoints in general and making a point of true flexibility of work arrangements. Trust is also a huge enabler, and it often goes hand-in-hand with flexibility.
In my view the devil is in the detail, the operation and the day-to-day interactions at work: formal HR protocols addressing diversity, looks you get when leaving early to pick up your kids from school because you’re working flexible hours, mentorship/sponsorship of senior female high potentials, proactively asking staff with a non-male/white background (such as females) for their opinion on important matters, involving them in setting the strategy, networking opportunities, etc. This is where organisations that truly embrace, see the value, and are successful in creating a diverse work environment, set themselves apart. And where gender-related roadblocks are minimised.
I should say in any organisation there are sub-cultures too, which are really important in the day-to-day experience as well. One of my reasons for wanting to join BDO was to work with some of the great leaders in forensic services again, that I had worked with previously. To me, they embody diversity and carry this through in their operations.
How do you manage those types of situations?
To me it depends. Which battles to I want to fight? How much energy do I have, and what priorities are competing for it? I will generally try to use humour appropriately when the opportunity arises and/or use informal interactions to make my views known, rather than seeking the mainstage regarding perceived roadblocks. I believe if an organisation isn’t ready, there is no point being Joan of Arc, at least not for me personally. I prefer to focus on the positive, great enablers that exist in any organisation, and on my client base. Those things give me positive energy, which in turn makes my days.
What do you think makes a successful leader?
Successful leaders exist at all levels of society and in our organisation. A leader inspires, so that others want to follow. A leader can never ‘make’ people follow them. A great leader serves their people.
Anyone can contribute to leadership, whether it’s by setting a great example in any initiative regarding market, quality or staff initiatives during one’s junior years and thereby showing the team what’s possible at those levels, or whether you are the managing Partner of a unit who enables others to excel in their fields.
The important thing to realise is that we always have a choice and there are always many different ways in which things can be done or achieved. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. I try to remind myself of this regularly, too. I do forget.
Why do you think that female leadership (or more diverse leadership) is important to the future of the firm?
Absolutely, there is no doubt about it. The world has taken a clear direction to equalisation of gaps between gender, race and the biases that drive them. This isn’t always easy, but has been scientifically proven to lead to better outcomes, more creative decision making and better long-term financial returns.
The difficulty is that embracing diversity sometimes comes at the cost of short-term profits. This means the organisation needs to change and embracing diversity always requires a long-term view – there are no shortcuts. A lot of organisations struggle to prioritise the long-term over the short-term, as management KPIs are often aligned with short-term success. I have seen many examples of bad outcomes of this over the years in forensic services: diversity related, and otherwise.
How has COVID-19 changed the way you work, now and into the future?
I think it would be safe to say that most of us agree that COVID-19’s silver lining has been to demonstrate outcome-based management works, that staff can be trusted, and flexibility in the workplace is an option.
I work from home more than I did before, because I feel this is accepted more now than it was before. I have office days, where I see clients, brainstorm with colleagues, network and build relationships. I have work-from-home days, where I am focussed, productive, write and read reports, articles, do presentations for industry webinars, etc. I manage my activities to suit my work environment as much as possible and feel a lot happier as a result. It’s truly an enhancement to work-life balance for me (slightly worn-out term, I know).
My hope is that we get to hold on to these advancements, and that enough time has passed to break through old ways of thinking about work (face-time in office, long hours are ‘heroic’, people need to be herded in order to be productive…). Time will tell.