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Celebrating 100 years of women in chartered accountancy

In May 2020, ICAEW will mark a pivotal moment in our history’s advancement of access to the profession – the admittance of our first female member, Mary Harris Smith.

Mary joined ICAEW following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in December 1919. This Act was a significant step forward for women entering a range of professions as it stipulated that:

A picture of the booklet that will celebrate 100 years of women in chartered accountancy.

The story

A book telling the story of the first 100 years of female chartered accountants, written by Jane Berney, Business Law Manager at ICAEW, was published in the autumn of 2019.

Be part of the story

The heart of our centenary campaign is to bring to light the stories of our members in chartered accountancy, so we can fully grasp the progress we’ve made and understand what more there is to do to achieve gender equality in the profession.

We want to hear what barriers you’ve faced; how you’ve overcome barriers; and where you haven’t been so successful – the good and the bad. We are building a digital archive of our female members’ experiences – and we want to hear from you.

Portrait commission

To mark her tenacity, determination and impact on the profession, ICAEW has commissioned a portrait of Mary Harris Smith. An original work, this oil on canvas portrait by Toby Wiggins RP will be hung in Chartered Accountants’ Hall in 2020, as a permanent way to honour her achievement and the many female members who follow in her footsteps. We'll let you know here when it's ready to be unveiled.

Mary Harris Smith

Portraits of Mary Harris Smith from The Woman's Signal (1895), Daily News (1904), Pall Mall Gazette (1919), Daily Mirror (1919), Leeds Mercury (1920). 

We are grateful to accounting historian Professor Stephen Walker, Edinburgh Business School, for supplying photographs of Mary Harris Smith.

ICAEW's centenary coverage

ICAEW President Fiona Wilkinson is leading the celebrations throughout her presidential year, June 2019 to May 2020, which fortuitously culminates in the month when we celebrate 100 years exactly of female membership at ICAEW.

Throughout Fiona’s presidential year, we will feature a special series of articles charting the journey of female chartered accountants.

Events

We want to recognise and celebrate the achievements of our members across the world. We are holding a series of different events throughout 2019 and 2020 to mark the centenary.

1 November 2019, Malaysia: Celebrating Excellence Awards Ceremony

Winners on stage holding certificates with Fiona Wilkinson.   Winners on stage holding certificates with Fiona Wilkinson.

12 November 2019, Singapore: Female lunch

Attendees seated at a table eating and talking, including Fiona Wilkinson and Sharron Gunn.   Attendees posing for a group shot around an ICAEW banner, including Fiona Wilkinson and Sharron Gunn.

21 November 2019, Belgium: Women in finance - perspectives from across Europe

L-to-R: Valerie Derambure (Ostrum Asset Management); Veronique Nejman (ING France); Vivienne Artz (Refinitiv); Mara Catherine Harvey (UBS); Fiona Wilkinson (ICAEW); Milda Darguzaite (Northern Horizon Capital); Susanna Di Feliciantonio (ICAEW).   Fiona Wilkinson (ICAEW) addressing the audience.

ICAEW Europe and the City of London came together in Brussels for a special afternoon panel discussion with women leaders from across Europe.

They discussed gender-related trends in financial services and took the opportunity to celebrate the centenary of Mary Harris Smith - our first female member.

As Fiona Wilkinson, ICAEW President, noted; while there has been a lot of progress in recent decades, more work still needs to be done to promote equality in the financial services sector, including the accountancy profession.

The panellists - from Paris, Vilnius, Zurich, Frankfurt and London - shared personal experiences and made concrete recommendations for change.

Describing her career as sometimes akin to ‘pushing water uphill’, Mara Catherine Harvey (UBS) stressed the business case of ensuring that services meet women’s needs - while addressing biases that can start by ages 5-7. Veronique Nejman (ING France) and Valerie Derambure (Ostrum Asset Management) shared trends from France, where legislation on pay gaps and board quotas has been seen as successful in driving change.

In Eastern Europe, however, stereotypes persist - and more education and communication efforts are required, according to Milda Darguzaite (Northern Horizon Capital).

Vivienne Artz (Refinitiv) wrapped up the debate by noting several themes which emerged in the discussion, not least the importance of data - including the link to AI - and the need to 'not just tinker around the edges, while neglecting the need for structural change’.

28 November 2019, Dubai: Female lunch with business leaders

Attendees round the lunch table   Durdana Rizvi (DSR Professional Training JLT) and Fiona Wilkinson (ICAEW)

A gathering of high profile females based in the U.A.E. Michael Armstrong gave an introduction before handing over to Fiona Wilkinson to share the story of the first female chartered accountant, commemorating the centenary of females joining the profession.

27 January 2020, Cyprus: Centenary lunch

A photo of the centenary lunch in Cyprus

A gathering of 62 senior women members working in business and practice for a lunch, kindly sponsored by the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA).

7 February 2020, UK: Pathway to finance director - diversity in the boardroom

The discussions provided insight into the benefits of having diverse corporate boards, possible routes to board positions and issues with a lack of diversity. A question and answer session hosted by the Sheffield & District Deputy President - Kate Platts provided the opportunity to further explore topics raised during the discussions.

As part of the celebration of diversity, the winner of the Sheffield College's competition for A level History students presented the findings of their research into the first female member of the Sheffield & District Society, Miss Ethel Margaret Smith.

15 May 2020, UK: Sharing an inclusive future for the next 100 years > PLACES AVAILABLE

ICAEW is delighted to announce an event celebrating inclusion and diversity. We will be marking the centenary of the first female member of the Institute, with a keen eye on promoting a future of gender balance, social inclusion and mobility, and change in the workplace.

Connect with members across the East of England as we celebrate inclusion, diversity and the anniversary of the first female member of ICAEW at this morning event chaired by ICAEW’s National President, Fiona Wilkinson. First we’ll hear from Ruth Logan, Audit Partner at EY Cambridge about her passion for supporting other women to progress their careers within professional services. After a break for refreshments Jack Monroe, British food writer, journalist and activist will speak about her anti-poverty campaign and being an Ambassador for Oxfam as well as her recent cookbooks.

21 May 2020, UK: Diversity, inclusion and culture > PLACES AVAILABLE

"When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back." Michelle Obama

2020 marks a century since the first female was admitted into membership. Mary Harris-Smith fought for over 33 years to be seen as equal to her male peers – showing outstanding resilience and character. As we look forward, how can we reflect on the treatment of Mary and ensure the mistakes made then, are never repeated? Join us as we delve into the power of diversity.

There are more events being prepared all over the UK (in the North, North West, South East, South West, West, Midlands, Scotland and Wales - so wherever you are there will be one near you!). We'll post them here as they become available.