Women in finance and accounting still need support to grow and thrive in leadership roles

"According to McKinsey, companies with greater gender diversity are more competitive, their studies have shown that companies with 30% of female executives were more likely to outpace companies where female executives ranged between 10% and 30%." 
Women in finance and accounting supporting each other

By Tariro Mutizwa, ACMA, CGMA, Regional Vice President – Africa, at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

While the ongoing global discourse and collective efforts to empower women in the workplace have yielded some positive results, more still needs to be done to address the challenges that impede women’s growth in the work environment. This is particularly important when it comes to addressing gender balance in leadership roles, including in the finance and accounting profession.

A recent global study by Deloitte has highlighted the increasing number of women who have ascended roles of leadership in finance and accounting across the globe; however, this is happening at a snail’s pace. The study shows that 18% of women now occupy C-level positions, yet, without an objective joint effort, female leaders in finance and accounting may not reach 25% by 2031.

Studies show that gender balance in the workplace makes good business sense. According to McKinsey, companies with greater gender diversity are more competitive, their studies have shown that companies with 30% of female executives were more likely to outpace companies where female executives ranged between 10% and 30%. 

Organisations have their work cut out to create working environments that enable women to grow in the workplace and eventually progress to leadership positions. While some glass ceilings remain of course, a robust DEI strategy, coupled with a concerted and consistent effort, will help organisations make further strides in this area.

Women in finance

1. Offer flexible working environments

It’s no secret that women often have had to choose between career progression and family responsibilities due to a lack of flexible work arrangements in their organisations. Women in South Africa and across the world want to care for their families and build a successful career, not one over the other. 

The second Quarterly Labour Force Survey for 2023 by Statistics South Africa showed that unemployment numbers for women were higher than average with 35.7% of women actively looking for work. In addition, Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of 2022, highlighted that women who do find work often find themselves settling for vulnerable employment, characterised by little earnings, poor productivity, and problematic work conditions.

Additionally, the pandemic has had significant and long-lasting effects on women’s career progression. A study by the UN Women and the International Labour Organization also shows that in 2020, over two million mothers left the labour force in response to the constraints that the pandemic imposed on their families. They also face a steeper path to re-enter the workforce than men.

These trends show that we are still holding onto archaic beliefs about the roles of women and men in society. Women need to be better supported to remain in the workforce and this can be in the form of financial planning, flexible and remote working arrangements, tailored support, and paid time off policies. This in turn should enable them to thrive professionally. 

2. Provide equal opportunities

We cannot talk about gender diversity and empowering women without talking about equal opportunities. According to UN Women, across all regions, women are paid 20% less than men, meaning that women are paid 80% of what their male counterparts are getting. 

Creating equal opportunities for women includes closing the gender pay of course but we must think beyond this to ensure true inclusion, it’s also about giving them equal opportunities to provide their perspectives and ideas in the workplace, affording them the same promotions and career advancement opportunities, and offering them the same skill development opportunities as their male counterparts.

3. Mentor and train female staff

Many women that I have spoken to have expressed the desire for mentorship and training opportunities in the workplace. Mentoring and training women in the workplace is an ideal way to provide them with skills that will render them best performers in their roles and thrive in their careers. 

In turn, mentoring women will change the women’s perceptions of the organisation positively, they will see it as valuing them and supporting them to progress in their careers. Good mentorship programmes provide better pathways to leadership roles, and likewise, ongoing training helps women build a professional network, keep abreast of changes in the industry, enhance their skills accordingly, and navigate the workplace and job market with improved confidence.


4. Provide ongoing organisation-wide DEI training 

Organisations that foster gender diversity are more competitive. Another benefit of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is the opportunity to attract a bigger pool of candidates, 76% of workers  are likely to join a company with a more diverse workforce. Also, when employees feel included, their morale improves, and they are likely to go the extra mile for the organisation.  

One way to achieve better gender diversity in the workplace is to educate all employees about it, this way, no one will be left behind. Embedding good DEI practices in the organisation’s culture will enable all employees to familiarise themselves with inclusive language, use it with sensitivity, and feel free to openly discuss DEI issues. This can positively impact the organisation’s culture and employees’ sense of belonging and psychological, including women, to create a high-performance culture where employees are engaged and innovative. 

5. Give women a seat at the table

Women are the only ones who can speak on their own struggles and should therefore be involved in conversations about them. They should be provided with the platform to raise issues, provide solutions, and question or address lacking accountability. Involving women in these conversations will also result in the gathering of novel and unique perspectives and ideas, resulting in more valuable and inventive solutions for the organisation.

Women play a critical role in their organisation’s success and holding them back from leadership positions will prove detrimental to business performance. However, to truly support women to progress in the workplace and break the glass ceilings, we must actively place them at the forefront of these conversations and acknowledge their contributions. Succeeding in this endeavour requires us to take a fresh look at our organisations. 

About AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants  

AICPA® & CIMA®, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants® (the Association), advance the global accounting and finance profession through our work on behalf of 698,000 AICPA and CIMA members, candidates and engaged professionals in 188 countries and territories. Together, we are the worldwide leader on public and management accounting issues through advocacy, support for the CPA license, the CGMA designation and specialised credentials, professional development and thought leadership. We build trust by empowering our members and engaged professionals with the knowledge and opportunities to be leaders in broadening prosperity for a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.

Leave a Comment

Get certified