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.
"The working day was punctuated by three bells ringing to warn us of a bomb coming directly towards us"
Betty Harrap (qualified in 1943)
I was articled on my 17th birthday in March 1938. By the time I was due to take the intermediate exam it was January 1941 and the Blitz was at its height. Public exams were moved out of London; in the case of the Institute, to the Imperial Services College at Windsor. Among the candidates there were only four or five women. We stayed in cubicles on the first floor of a wooden shed, reached by an outside staircase. There was snow on the ground; it was bitterly cold, the plumbing is best not dwelt on and the food was simply appalling.
When it came to our finals in January 1943, I managed to come second: I might have been the first woman to achieve honours. I was drafted into the Ministry of Fuel and Power. This job was not stimulating but life was exciting because the office was on Milbank and the flying bombs were then at their height. The working day was punctuated by three bells ringing to warn us of a bomb coming directly towards us. Fortunately they all missed.
"the senior partner came to meet me, declaring that he wanted to 'see this freak'."
Patricia Whitaker (qualified on 3rd March 1954)
Once I was qualified, I had to apply for jobs using my initial and surname rather than my full name. I knew the chances were that I wouldn’t be called to interview if they knew it was a woman applying. When I turned up to one interview in London and they found out that I was not a man, they told me I would be a “disrupting influence” and they didn’t have the facilities for me.
I recall when I qualified being asked by one man why I needed the extra money as I “had a husband to keep me”. When I joined one firm, the senior partner came to meet me, declaring that he wanted to “see this freak”.
However, it wasn’t all bad. When I was pregnant with my first child, it was the norm for women not to come back to work. When I gave my notice, they asked me to stay on longer and kept extending my leaving date. They also gave me leeway on getting into work (I suppose today’s equivalent is flexible working!). I think by this stage I was one of them and gender no longer came into it.
“Can you type?”
Sheila Bury (qualified in 1958)
I did not go to university; I worked all day while I was studying and I did a correspondence course with Foulks Lynch. When articled, I studied in my own time at night and weekends. My salary was 30 shillings per week.
I am over 84 years of age, but I have remembered for over 60 years the question asked of me in my very first interview with a prospective employer after I had received my results: “Can you type?”
This gives an excellent indication of the conditions in the 50s. But I was the first woman to qualify in Sheffield, and I became the senior partner in a firm of chartered accountants in 1963. My qualification has been one of the best things in my life.
"I was told by a very senior member that he was offended by my presence"
Diane Morris (qualified in 1963)
When I qualified it was generally believed that there was a quota for the number of women who would be passed, and I was told by a fellow CA that I had kept a good man out! At my first annual dinner in Adelaide I was told by a very senior member that he was offended by my presence and that I should have had the grace not to attend.
Fortunately I have a good sense of humour and it has given me great pleasure to see women take their place at all levels of the profession over the last few years.
"I met my future husband, Peter, in Committee Room 2 of Moorgate Place"
Brenda Duffell (qualified in 1965)
I started working life at 16 in 1960, at a City firm of chartered accountants. I was articled to the senior partner, and I was fortunate, in that he approved of women entering the profession.
There were two other girls who joined at about the same time – one from Singapore and one from Pakistan. We were very aware that we needed to work hard – it was not enough to be as good as the boys: we needed to be better than them!
I submitted some poems to Contra magazine, published by the Chartered Accountants Students’ Society of London. In 1962 I attended a meeting of the editorial board of Contra, where I met my future husband, Peter, in Committee Room 2 of Moorgate Place.
In 1965 I passed the final exam, gaining the William Quilter Prize and the Plender Prize for auditing. So I managed to be better than a lot of the boys! I am very glad that I was able to become a chartered accountant and would recommend it as a career. There is, of course, no guarantee of finding a husband!
"she wouldn’t initially have been paid"
Anne Weyman (qualified in 1967)
Both my father and my brother were chartered accountants and in the 1930s my mother was secretary to the senior partner of a City firm. He offered her articles. Although he was willing to waive the premium that articled clerks paid in those days, she wouldn’t initially have been paid. As the main earner supporting her mother and two siblings, she couldn’t afford to take his offer.
I always wanted a career and accountancy was an obvious choice to gain a professional qualification. As an articled clerk, the audit office manager disapproved of my appointment and was damaging my progress in the firm. He thought it improper to include me in the team for out of town audits because we would be staying in a hotel together. These were the most important audits and my absence from them implied I wasn’t competent.
At least twice, a less able man than me was appointed to a senior position. In both cases, they didn’t last very long in the job.
"I could code numbers...(the computer) was housed in a building near Putney Bridge and its memory was probably less than modern mobile phones."
Anne Deakin (qualified 1971)
After two idyllic years studying for my A-levels in Malta I needed to think of a career. The Careers Master had just received some leaflets from the ICAEW and said, "You’re good at maths. How about this?" I knew nothing about the work of a Chartered Accountant but did follow this up by applying for interviews with three firms of Chartered Accountants in Preston and signed Articles with one of them in September 1966.
A course called a Pre Service Course was being trialled in 4 colleges in the country and my Principal suggested I should attend one. Liverpool in 1966 sounded like a fun place to go and studying at College was also preferable to the alternative Correspondence Course. All going well so far but shock horror on my first day when I found myself outnumbered by 20 to 1 in a class of 21. I had never appreciated what a male dominated profession I had decided to join. Fortunately, my experience of attending a Co-educational School helped me in this situation and I seemed to be accepted by my classmates. My research had not extended to seeing how many women were Chartered Accountants in 1966 but I realised that not only did I need academic skills but also social skills to survive.
Back in the office my first audit was to assist on the audit of a local printer. The leather bound ledgers were hand written in copperplate writing and looked like works of art that should not be defaced with red or green ink. I was so intent on not messing up the pages I don’t think I absorbed much about why I was making these marks. Over time I became fascinated by the variety of clients and the way they recorded their transactions and also began to appreciate why we were there and enjoyed the challenge of learning how businesses operated.
In 1969 I transferred my Articles to a larger firm in Cambridge where I gained an insight into the running of some of the Cambridge Colleges. I was also introduced to the mechanisation of accounts production. Previously the accounts were prepared using extended trial balances but now I could code numbers and they were transferred to a punch card and sent away to be processed. Before taking my final exams I was introduced to the computer that processed the punch card. This was not something that sat on a desk but was housed in a building near Putney Bridge and its memory was probably less than modern mobile phone.
I was offered work at a local public school that wanted to computerise its accounts department. I managed to train myself up and succeeded in transferring their Kalamazoo system to a computerised system. This was a great opportunity to master an early accounting system so I then bought my first desk top computer and accounts production program and started to acquire clients of my own. I went into partnership in 1990 and ran a practice in Petersfield with my partner until 2006 when he retired and we sold the practice. Some clients wanted me to carry on acting for them so I have been servicing them since then. The numbers are slowly reducing and I am no longer looking for new work but do spend quite a lot of time working with two local charities as a trustee and finance director.
In the 1980’s there were very few Accounting Standards but with changes in expectations of readers of accounts and investors it became important for Standards to be developed to enable comparability and accuracy in reporting. The same was true of Auditing. I decided that I needed to keep up to date myself and to help my staff to understand the changes, so I joined the local Technical Advisory Committee...This led to me sitting on the ARC for 6 years, then the Investigation Committee for 3 years and now on the Practice Assurance Committee.
I have enjoyed all of these roles and they have reassured me that our Institute cares very deeply about not only maintaining standards but also assisting practices, that are struggling with changes in regulations, to access support. I know we all live in dread of the QAD visit but the amount of work the inspectors and support staff do to help members achieve the necessary standards, and the genuine care that is handed to those members who sadly become ill and unable to cope with the day to day running of their practices, is something we should value.
I have enjoyed my life as a Chartered Accountant and can’t count the number of people I have met and worked with over the years. I have never experienced discrimination and have always been treated equally. I now see the number of women joining the profession is almost equal to men and I think it is a reflection of the versatility that the qualification gives. I have had a very varied career and always had a sense of satisfaction in doing a job well so I should thank that Careers Master who gave little or no thought to what career I was suited to but set me on my career path.
“The profession is too difficult for a woman.”
Stephanie Campion (qualified in 1971)
My first interview was with a pompous partner in one of the big firms. His actual words were: “The profession is too difficult for a woman.” That was a red rag to a bull: it made me determined to prove him wrong.
I enjoyed learning accounting. It appealed to my logical brain. We had no calculators in those days – there was one abacus, which only the secretary was allowed to use. The clerks had to do all their arithmetic mentally.
I did all my studying by correspondence course, and passed all my exams first time. The only problem I had was during the miners’ strike, when I had to study by candle-light, wrapped in blankets and huddled over an oil stove.
Over the 13 years I worked in industry in insurance, I hit my head on the glass ceiling often enough to realise that it consists of a thick layer of men. Promotion just didn’t happen. The only way up for a woman was to move sideways first. So when an opportunity arose to be interviewed for a secondment to Paris, I applied.
When I moved to France, I took a professional acting course, found an agent, and now can be seen onstage in Paris, in films, voicing adverts, and even on TV.
"I am now treated equally, and interrupt my male colleagues nearly as often as they do me."
Lynn Haight (qualified in 1973)
I was articled to the only partner in an English village firm prepared to take women. He liked to employ women because they did the work promptly, passed exams with no apparent difficulty, and allowed him enough time for politics to become the senior partner. It may have been the only time I was not acutely aware of my gender in my working life.
I married a Canadian and moved to Toronto. On the application forms to the Big Five I was told that I should not keep my maiden name and I should not put atheist next to religion, as I had enough points against me as a woman.
I was told five times that I could not have a job or promotion because I am female, in the days before equality legislation; I was underpaid compared with the men everywhere – when I was needed as an interim CEO, and paid the predecessor’s salary, I realised the difference in pay scales.
Being blocked from promotion leaves a nasty taste: so I found outlets in my spare time: international development consulting with UNDP, UNDTCD and the World Bank in New York, Bangladesh and Bolivia, and chairing an international committee in Geneva and Washington for UNHCR.
A NED for the last 10 years, I am now treated equally, and interrupt my male colleagues nearly as often as they do me.
"Some companies ... rang the firm to make sure they hadn’t sent the secretary by mistake"
Naila Webb (qualified in 1974)
In 1969, as an eager 18-year-old Kenyan Asian, I was desperate to train as a chartered accountant. Not any old accountant – but a Chartered Accountant in England and Wales.
Kenya, being a British colony, had an education system based on the British O- and A-levels. Luckily for me, the Institute accepted my qualifications for entrance as an articled clerk. My needlework O-level, however, was not accepted. I’m not sure why, as the course included calculations on dressmaking patterns!
I was warned my gender and colour might be held against me. I was the only woman among about 50 articled clerks. Some companies were surprised to see a woman and rang the firm to make sure they hadn’t sent the secretary or comptometer by mistake. But, on the whole, I experienced no prejudice. If there was any, my motto was that it was the other person’s problem, not mine.
"It was strictly hierarchical."
Pamela Lambarth (qualified in 1974)
As an articled clerk you were ‘jack of all trades’. It was strictly hierarchical. I remember manning the phone switchboard in reception, which had the old plug-in sockets. We also had to proofread the various profit & loss and balance sheets before they were issued to clients.
In-house accounts were recorded in thick bound formal ledger books. When auditing we had to use a different colour pen for each year and we had three types of tick for addition, transfer from source document and transfer balance. From these we created the trial balance, profit and loss and balance sheets.
There was a hand cranked adding machine in each room, but we were not allowed to use them for the first year of articles. An electric one existed in one of the basement rooms, but God forbid you got caught using it. I remember being proud of successfully completing one of my first sets of accounts and presenting it to the partner, who said, “Oh, we do not want so much profit” – and much to my dismay he simply adjusted the stock number to reduce it!
"I don't regret anything in my career and never felt I was held back. Most importantly, I enjoyed it."
"They gave their secretaries chocolates for Christmas so they gave the women trainees the same. The married men got turkeys."
Anne Vernon (qualified in 1976)
I started training in 1973 just as equal pay and rights legislation was coming in. We were paid the same as the men and I think treated equally although it was all very new and they were clearly trying hard. It was a smallish practice and there were not many women and no women seniors when I started. I did stay and become an assistant manager. They gave their secretaries chocolates for Christmas so they gave the women trainees the same. The married men got turkeys. Eventually the single men complained and they stopped the chocolates.
We could wear trousers except at clients' premises if a client had a dress code.
I have a fond memory of going to a farm client where we were working in a freezing office off a threshing barn. I arrived part way through the week and wasn’t there at the start. Part way through the morning the owner came in said “you must be cold my dear” and produced an ancient electric fire. After he went out the male senior said that he had frozen for three days but I got the fire. We both laughed and benefited from the slightly raised temperature.
In the mid-70s I went to an interview at an oil company and was told that women were not allowed on oilrigs. As late as 1988 I had an opportunity to visit a working coal mine as part of a job - there was quite a lot of fuss because there were no facilities for women to shower afterwards but they organised it.
"the first all-female partnership in Bristol"
Christine Pattison (qualified in 1976)
I left school in Edinburgh aged 15, because I did not want to stay on and become a teacher, the only career suggested to me. I progressed up the ladder from bookkeeping, to wages clerk, and at age 27 was running all administration in an accountant’s office. There I read an ICAEW by-law which stated that, if you were 27 with 10 years of acceptable experience, the entrance qualifications could be waived and replaced by an interview.
I subsequently became an articled clerk in the small firm in Bath where I was working – with a drop in salary, of course. I qualified in 1976 – the first woman to qualify in Bath, so the local newspaper announced. I joined a 13-partner, six-branch Bristol firm as their first woman equity partner. There I met Angela James, the only female salaried partner, and in 1986 we bought out one of the branches to create the first all female partnership in Bristol).
I recall bumping into an ex-colleague, just after becoming a partner, who asked whether clients minded taking advice from a woman.
"after [having] children I was given backroom work to do until I gave up."
Margaret Coombe (qualified in 1977)
When I began, women faced a great deal of misogyny. I was sent by my manager to buy flowers for his wife, to take his coat to his meeting, to arrange meals, and had my drinks spiked when we had group drinks in the pub.
One partner shouted at me for interrupting a meeting with an urgent document, and his ‘apology’ was to say he thought I was a secretary. I got used to being pinched in lifts in client buildings. I was once in charge of a job in a factory and was not allowed to go onto the shop floor: I had to ask for a male colleague to be sent to help. Eating alone in a Liverpool hotel, I was approached by the waiter to ‘accompany’ another guest, and ended up eating all meals in my room.
When we qualified, my female colleagues and I booked lunch at Moorgate Hall; we were told it was for members only – we were members, and stayed, but were made to feel uncomfortable. We went back every year, and eventually did not cause a stir when we arrived.
I left the profession early after a brief spell trying to make it work after having children. I’m not sure what I could have done differently – perhaps complained more – but I would have stayed if I could. As it was, after children I was given backroom work to do until I gave up. Female colleagues who stayed made massive sacrifices, as I see it, in their personal lives at that time.
"I was told: 'Ladies cannot speak on the stage at Chartered Accountants Hall.'"
Denise Naylor (qualified in 1979)
I was one of eight women in my 1975 intake at Deloitte & Co. In my first week I asked why I was not included in the firm’s pension scheme. The response – “Do you mean to tell me we have ladies on the professional staff?” – gave me an indication of what was to come.
Some managers wouldn’t give women the most prestigious audit clients. Some women were kept in the audit room as glorified secretaries, unable to get the experience they needed to complete their training contracts. There were clients who had no ladies toilets. There were clients where the walls of the audit room were covered in pornographic images.
I became treasurer of the Chartered Accountants Students Society of London. When I had to present my annual report at CAH, I was told: “Ladies cannot speak on the stage at Chartered Accountants Hall.” I replied: “You can refuse ladies, but not the treasurer.” I made my speech, I believe as the first woman to speak from that stage.
"Throughout my professional life I was encouraged by male colleagues"
Susan Macrae (qualified in 1984)
I was a late starter in the profession, beginning my training contract at the age of 33 in 1979. So I benefitted from the tenacity of my contemporaries who fought the battles to ensure that women were accepted in what was still a male-dominated profession.
Throughout my professional life I was encouraged by male colleagues. It was the fact that my District Society was keen to recruit a woman that led to my becoming the first woman to join the Main Committee of the South Eastern Society. I went on to become president.
In 2004, with my daughter and another colleague, I set up a new practice. We were going to be client-focused. We weren’t going to have staff or timesheets. Then my daughter became pregnant and our no-staff policy had to change. In her NCT group there were a number of CAs who didn’t want to work full time, but wanted to do something. These mothers would need to be able to work from home, so we installed a server so our system could be accessed from anywhere. We went paperless so remote workers could see client files.
Our business plan was simple. Have fun, don’t work for anyone you don’t like and make money. The fly in the ointment? People assume our one male colleague is the boss. It drives me nuts!
"Some [partners] felt that I couldn’t travel and certainly not work abroad as I had a husband to look after!"
Jane Berney (qualified 1989)
Thank you for your letter inviting me to the archive of female members' stories, a very worthy project.
My Career as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant
After studying history at the University of Manchester I wasn’t sure what to do next. The 1980s were not a great time to be looking for a job but the accountancy firms did seem to be keen on recruiting lots of graduates, even those with Arts degrees. I was attracted by the thought of a professional qualification, the fact that all the people I met on the ‘Milk round’ stressed the variety of the work and also that if it really wasn’t for me the qualification would stand me in good stead.
To be honest I didn’t have a clue what a chartered accountant did – so much so that on my first day I had to rush out in my lunch hour to buy a calculator – but I enjoyed it from the start. I joined a medium-sized firm (now part of RSM) in London and loved the fact that I was always out visiting totally different clients across the UK, the challenge (!) of the exams and working in a team. The pay was pretty good too!
After qualifying I joined the banking division of Arthur Young (now EY) as the aspect of the job I really enjoyed was auditing. Although I was based in London and mainly audited banks, each client was very different. I think my most challenging and interesting audit was in Poland on a World Bank assignment. I then worked in Amsterdam (still with EY) for three years before coming back to London. In 1991 I was promoted to audit manager so on top of my auditing responsibilities I took on student counselling and recruitment roles as well as running training courses for audit staff.
I have to say that I never personally felt that I was treated any differently because I was a woman. Such was the growth in demand for accountants in the 1980s that firms almost had to recruit women. In my cohort the male:female ratio was about 50:50, although this was not the case amongst more senior employees. I never had a female role model or female mentor – quite simply this was because when I started there were no female partners, and only a few female managers, most of whom were frankly terrifying!
As a married woman, however, I was viewed with a certain degree of suspicion. I got married within 6 weeks of starting my articles and many partners were convinced that I was bound to get pregnant and so it was a waste of time training me. Some also felt that I couldn’t travel and certainly not work abroad as I had a husband to look after! Unsurprisingly my husband, who is also an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, was never told he couldn’t go abroad because he had a wife to look after! Most partners and managers, however, were far more enlightened and so long as I did the job, put in the hours (and sometimes the hours were very long) then it really didn’t matter if I was a Jane or a John. I think in the 1980s and 90s it was probably more difficult to be LGBT than female. Clients were also, on the whole, indifferent to my gender, although in meetings it was often assumed that I was the most junior member of the team, and I did have to put up with quite a lot of crude comments and jokes but I always gave as good as I got.
This may explain why when I announced that I was pregnant and wanted to come back to work on a part-time basis I was totally shocked at the lack of support. I was expected to return to work as soon as possible after the birth, to work full time but at the same time I was told that I couldn’t do certain audits or assignments because of my family commitments. Again, my husband was never told that his family commitments dictated the type of work he could do. By that time there were a few female partners who did have children, but they told me to sort out my childcare and forget about working part-time if I wanted to progress in the firm. As a result, I left EY in London and when my son was one went to work as a full-time audit manager for KPMG in Cambridge as this was near to where I lived. When I had my second son it was clear that part-time working as an audit manager was not an option, so I decided to be a full-time mother.
One of the many advantages of being a chartered accountant or admitting that you are one is that people value your financial expertise. I may have been a stay-at-home mother, but I was in demand to be the treasurer of any number of local organisations. In the end I became the treasurer for the local church and for the local school where I was a governor. This was very different to auditing banks, but it kept my hand in so to speak. I also used the time to study for a masters and a PhD. The latter was in Hong Kong where we lived for 4 years and where as the wife of an ex-pat I was not allowed to work but could study.
By 2013 we were back in London, my PhD was completed and my boys were teenagers: it was time to return to work. I was very fortunate to be employed by ICAEW in the Business Law department and I have been here ever since. I may have become a chartered accountant almost by accident but it has proved to be a very fortunate accident!
Dr Jane Berney BFP FCA
"I knew I wanted to do commercial subjects, rather than classics."
Aileen Swain (qualified 1982)
I went to an all girls grammar school in Birmingham. Only a few of us left in the summer of 1967 because most girls stayed on into the 6th form to go to University or teacher training college. So I was unusual from the outset in that I knew I wanted to do commercial subjects, rather than classics...not only did I attain Credits in the OND but also O and A levels in subjects such as Basics of Law, Economic History, Commerce, Economics, Commercial Law and Accounting. I also had the opportunity to study Shorthand and Typing and did well enough to earn a living with an agency in the college holidays as a shorthand typist.
I then married and a career went on hold since we started a retail business from scratch. Unfortunately my husband became ill and I realised I needed to qualify as a professional to be able to support us. So, as a late developer, I managed to get a Training Contract with Thos. Bourne & Co in Burton-upon-Trent, to whom I am still very grateful. They took me on as a Semi-Senior because of my age and experience. I had to do a 9 month full time course at Birmingham Polytechnic and then continue for 4 years by correspondence and block release. At the Poly I recall being second overall out of 108, however, only about 7 of us were females in 1977. This meant I became a Member of the Institute in 1982 and a Fellow in 1992.
At no time did I have any difficulty being a female with any of the Partners or Staff that I worked with. Any issues were with the Directors of the small companies we audited who did not like to deal with a "young woman". Fortunately, any bosses I had always stood up for me, in front of clients too.
In the 1990's I started my own practice and by that time being a woman was not such an issue, I had enough clients.
I am now living in New Zealand and have retired, as far as one can be! I shall always be very grateful to the Institute and to my profession and colleagues over the years.
"I am happy to say I, personally, didn't experience any gender inequality during my time with the firm."
Wendy Lawrenson (qualified in 1998)
I entered chartered accountancy in 1994 at the age of 40 – my student colleagues were the same age, or younger, than my two children.
At an interview with a small Liverpool partnership, I was told that, although there was no actual ban on women wearing trousers, they expected the female employees not to wear them. I’d have been happy to wear almost anything to gain a training contract, knowing that I would be the first mature student to be accepted into the firm.
On my first day I was given a wad of 16-column ledger paper and a carrier bag full of invoices, cheque stubs and bank statements. There was only one computer, which was used merely to enter details on a spreadsheet.
I am happy to say I, personally, didn't experience any gender inequality during my time with the firm. However, there were no female partners and the majority of students were male. I left practice to become a management accountant, but will always be thankful that the firm I trained and qualified with did not have any barriers to age equality.
"I can see cultural changes, improvements and a drive towards employee work life balance. There has been a huge shift towards encouraging the younger generations to follow passion."
Tanya Meisel (qualified in 2007)
I am proud to be a member of ICAEW. I worked hard to get my qualifications and experience and I am glad I started my career early and dedicated myself 100%. It has paid dividends as the qualification is now a foundation of support for my family. Life as a chartered accountant is not without challenges and career setbacks, particularly being a female in accountancy - in my experience. Unfortunately, 100 years on we still are not where we should be. Parental leave and flexibility is moving forward but it’s not where it needs to be yet. I’m very much in the middle of my professional path and have young children and ageing parents. I thrive to give more to my profession but life is a balancing act; some days i get it just right while others are a flop.
I can see cultural changes, improvements and a drive towards employee work life balance. There has been a huge shift towards encouraging the younger generations to follow passion. Having two young daughters myself, I hope that they have dedication and passion for whatever path they choose and that we continue moving forward supporting women in career development.
"I am an economic refugee who migrated from Zimbabwe to London, UK in 2005, in search for better opportunities."
Kudzanai Mumbure (qualified 2010)
I am an economic refugee who migrated from Zimbabwe to London, UK in 2005, in search for better opportunities. I was six months pregnant, first time to board a plane at the time, and very anxious. I forego a junior role as a trainee banker in my native country, left my family and friends and the life that I knew, for the UK. I had to start over.
When my son was six months old, I started searching for a job in the investment banking sector, hopeful that it would be easy as I had one year work experience after graduation. After several applications and no response 6 months later, I started considering a chartered accountancy qualification. I had come to know through research that any degree background was acceptable, provided I met the minimum criteria for most training firms, which I did.
Following a series of challenging graduate trainee interviews and assessment days by three to four accounting firms, I was offered a training contract by a leading mid-tier firm. Going to these interviews was not only a challenge to prepare for, but to find babysitters for my toddler. Thankfully, I had come to bond with a small bunch of moms from postnatal classes, who happily assisted me with babysitting.
When my son was 19 months old, I started my training contract in September 2007. It was rigorous as I had to balance going to audit clients and produce quality work, college days, studying at night (if my son agreed to sleep on time), and being a full time mother without much support. Occasionally, I had to travel outside London to some of my clients to work, which was never easy. Getting support from au pairs for babysitting was invaluable, but came with its own challenges as most were on short term visits and the countless panic commutes after work to get back home from the City and relieve the au pair. This was the only option I could afford at the time. I sat for my first two multiple choice-based papers only three weeks after starting my training contract. I passed one and had to re-sit the other one. I was devastated to re-sit as this was the first time it had ever happened in my educational life. I had first time passes on the rest of my exams going forward as I felt I had no luxury to slack. I became exam qualified within the firm's set three year target.
In the midst of the hard work and good results, I struggled with low self-esteem. I was always conscious I was different, being a minority (the only one of my race and gender combination in my whole year group across the firm's national offices), and I felt invisible. The culture was different from where I came from, albeit my efforts to fit in. I expressed a desire to be promoted post qualification, but no one acknowledged it nor even guided me on what I needed to do next. It was also the year I learnt and experienced inappropriate remarks from a senior male colleague, and unequal pay when a colleague inadvertently revealed their earnings to me.
I continued, moved forward by finding opportunities that fit my ambition and earning desire. I was pleasantly surprised at how the world became my oyster.
Ultimately, the ACA qualification has opened so many doors unimaginable for me. I relocated to Bermuda, Kenya and back to London within a space of five years, internationalising my career within the Big 4 firms and insurance industry, building amazing contacts, getting promotions (eventually), and improving my self-esteem while at it. My child is a teenager now and in his words, "he is having a great and extraordinary childhood!”. Something which is fulfilling to hear for any single mother who works tirelessly and wants the best for their child.
The journey to obtain an ACA qualification was not easy, but it was achievable and the benefits have been immense. I now actively work with the ICAEW to give back. In addition to my day job where I am an Associate Director in the largest mid-tier firm, I volunteer as an ICAEW Women in Finance Committee member and also as a Beds, Bucks, & Herts District Society Management Committee member. I am actively involved in my firm's graduate trainee recruitment. I am very thankful to Mary Harris Smith for paving the way for a Zimbabwean girl like me. Her struggles and tenacity will always be remembered and we celebrate her.
"Here we are, my small practice was created, with a sustainable growth plan built around my desire to be a mum and a chartered accountant."
Leanne Gurr (qualified in 2010)
The beginning of my life as an accountant felt very much like an extension to university, working in a training firm in Soho meant going to college with like-minded young 20-somethings. So there was lots of studying mixed with partying in London. Fun times were had, and youth was on my side as I often commuted to work on minimal sleep and one (cough) too many drinks.
Alas, it soon became time to grow up and a promotion available led to a move to a county office closer to home. A relatively long but contented stretch ensued as a Group and Company Audit and Accounts manager.
Then as a young 30-something I was thrilled to fall pregnant. As the news passed through the open plan office, I heard the gasps of "oh bleep" from a senior partner. I took this as a compliment to how much my contribution would be missed whilst on leave. It’s a common story, women performing well at work, leading teams, then the natural happens, and we have babies. This was an emotional roller coaster for me as I struggled to let go of my work.
After my maternity leave, I was happy to accept a new challenge with a list of small companies to manage, new staff to work with, and new client relationships to develop. I settled well into this new role and then, as is the way with family life, boom, another pregnancy.
During my second maternity leave, my mind moved towards thinking about the next 30 years as a mother and a chartered accountant. I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to be self-employed. However, fear of the unknown led me back to work. I found that another change was offered to me, and so I decided, it’s now or never. If I am going to have a new client list, have new relationships to develop, and new businesses to help, then I am going to do it as a business owner myself.
Here we are, my small practice was created, with a sustainable growth plan built around my desire to be a mum and a chartered accountant. Trading for just over 6 months now, I have met many wonderful small business owners, and am especially pleased to be developing relationships with other like-minded women.
With potentially 30 years of work ahead of me, I feel like I am entering the most exciting chapter of my journey as a business owner and the biggest challenges are surely still to come.
So this is me, not breaking glass ceilings, but creating a future that works for me and my family.
"In 2016, I became one of the first women in Botswana to attain the ACA qualification with the ICAEW."
Onneile Maripe (qualified in 2016)
In 2016, I became one of the first women in Botswana to attain the ACA qualification with the ICAEW and also hold the BICA qualification. This was history for the country, as it was for all women and we were all so proud. In 2019, I became the first woman to be an Ambassador for ICAEW at One Young World. I represented my country Botswana and this made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.