Women represent more than 50% of accounting graduates entering the profession but—according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)—make up only 19% of partners in accounting firms in the US.
CIMA – The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants is the world’s largest professional body of management accountants, supporting 150,000 Chartered Global Management Accountants (CGMAs) globally. It’s taking steps to fight the gender gap at leadership level and promote women in accounting.
Samantha Louis has worked for CIMA for 19 years. She’s progressed from heading up CIMA in South Africa, to the entire Sub-Saharan Africa region, to a transfer to London where she now works as CIMA’s VP Strategic Engagement – Management Accounting.
“I’ve been fortunate to meet many inspiring woman over the course of my career who have mentored, guided, and helped me,” she says. “Today, I see more women in more senior positions who are driving and influencing the profession at a global level—you definitely wouldn’t have seen that when I started working.”
CIMA leads by example. It’s had a number of female presidents—CIMA in South Africa had its first female president back in 1989. In the UK, CIMA’s women in accounting leadership group supports women at all levels of their careers.
The business case
According to a 2015 McKinsey report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry averages.
The business case for diversity has been made, and there’s been change across the accounting industry. The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) has had two women presidents in succession.
Deloitte in the UK has put promoting gender diversity into every single partner and manager’s KPIs. Deloitte is among a number of firms to trial gender neutral resumes, removing any unconscious gender bias in the screening of job candidates.
Samantha is positive: “You’re going to do what’s going to drive your business sustainably in the long-term. And I think that the case has been made that diversity at all levels of leadership does that.”
CIMA and the MBA
Samantha took her MBA at the University of Pretoria in Johannesburg, South Africa. She’s also a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), having studied the CIMA qualification via the CIMA’s Master’s Gateway, a fast-track route for MBA holders which exempts them from 11 exams.
The CIMA qualification extends beyond the scope of traditional accountancy programs, covering technical accounting skills, as well as modern, management-focused topics like big data, sustainability, and leadership.
CIMA students are assessed through task-based case studies which reflect today’s working environment. The qualification took Samantha around 18 months to complete.
“Once I started growing in a leadership role, it became clear to me that I needed to have a much better understanding of finance,” she says.
“How does money really work within an organization? What’s the financial impact of decisions you make? How do you allocate resources in the most effective way? The CIMA qualification answers those questions.
“MBAs are often quite broad and don’t take every subject into a lot of depth,” Samantha continues. “If you aspire to work at a board or senior management level, CIMA is a really good qualification to do in addition to your MBA.”
Bryony Stewart is a management consultant at a leading global financial services firm. She completed her CIMA qualification in 2003, and decided to pursue a part-time MBA at Strathclyde Business School a year later.
She knows women face challenges in reaching leadership roles in accounting and finance. For Bryony, among the key issues are women’s family and care-giving responsibilities, and a lack of female role models and mentors in some organizations. Still, she’s optimistic about the future.
“Progress is being made as awareness, support and commitment to address the gender imbalance at the top improves—some firms are also starting to set board level objectives on gender diversity,” she says.
“This is more than just a desire to improve equality stats but also to capitalize on improved financial performances, improved operational efficiency, and improved employee engagement in firms that have gender balanced leadership teams,” Bryony continues.
“There will be phenomenal benefits from gender-balanced teams, and it's something I’m excited to help evolve.”