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Women in accountancy: your stories

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

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ICAEW's President introduces the digital archive

Fiona Wilkinson, ICAEW President 2019/20, explains how and why the archive came about, and the importance of this resource.

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"My teacher said I could do a career in accountancy."

Anonymous (qualified 1940s)

My teacher said I could do a career in accountancy. I was allowed to leave school and work in an office while studying book keep and economics in the evenings at technical college. 


I was well received by clients - not one of them rebuffed me. Two of them took me to their homes to meet their wives, three times I was taken out for lunch. A noisy mill owner took me to his home to work in the dining room because the mill office was on a noisy road, which he didn't think would be good for me. 

When I sat the intermediate exam there was just one more lady taking her finals. At the final exams I was the only female there. Two friendly young men invited me to have lunch with them and in the dark November early evening escorted me to my lodgings. 

I couldn't have had better treatment anywhere during the years I worked (in that office).

"the records that we audited were all hand written"

Anonymous (qualified 1940s)

I was the third girl to be taken on to train by our senior partners. He was a governor of a school and had taken on his first girl, a senior girl from that school. He was so pleased with her that he took on a second girl and then I was the third.

He placed me for the first week in a small room with one of the older secretaries, as he thought I was too young to go straight into the Articled Clerks room. He gave me a large, heavy cash book and told me to add it up and to come back to him when I had done it. It was of course in pounds, shillings, and pence, half pennies and farthings. When I had done it he asked me to post it and I was baffled by this. He suggested that I went to a bookkeeping evening class, which I did.

The next step was to start a postal tuition course. This entailed reading notes and textbooks, and posting off answers to test papers. This was done in our own spare time, after working full time on audit work. 

We girls were treated the same as the boys and were sent out on audits, and sometimes stayed in hotels on away jobs. I enjoyed the variety and the travelling. Some of our male colleagues were older, due to being in the services during the War, or having done their National Service prior to accountancy training. 

Initially the records that we audited were all hand written, with very heavy ledgers and books, and we often had to find differences to balance the books. Later these were punched card and other mechanised systems, and of course computers much later. Our auditing entailed a lot of detailed checking, but gradually became more systems based. 

We had a lady comptometer operator who came sometimes for a day on the audit, to add up on her machine for us. The comptometer was a large heavy and noisy machine, and the operator was very skilled at using it. I was sometimes asked on arriving on audit if I was the comptometer operator.

The articled clerks were mainly sons of clients, and had been to public schools. They were called by their surnames only. At that time quite a few of the older men wore bowler hats. Although it was several years after WWII, there were numerous bomb sites in the City and rebuilding work going on. Food rationing was in force. We girls brought sandwiches to work, but later we received 2/6d (12 1/2 p) daily luncheon vouchers.

"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.

"all the interest on mortgages and investments was calculated...with pencil and paper!"

Madeleine Skermer (qualified in 1947)

I came to accountancy by chance in 1941. I joined a two partner firm of Chartered Accountants as a shorthand typist at £1 per week, reduced to 17/6 due to, as my employer said, "not being much use"!

I left Secondary School with an 8 credit School Certificate which led to an offer of Articles with the £50 premium waived. So much for "not being much use"!!

There was a good variety of audit work and the office also handled the day-to-day running of the Vernon Building Society which had been formed by my Principle in 1924. There were not computers or "adding machines" back then so all the interest on mortgages and investments was calculated at monthly rests with pencil and paper!

In 1963, a promised partnership did not materialise and so I branched out as a Sole Practitioner - the only one in Stockport.


"My father paid £250 for my Articles in 1947"

Janet Brooks (qualified in 1953)

My memories demonstrate how slowly the numbers of female chartered accountants increased initially. 

My father paid £250 for my Articles in 1947.

I sat my final exam in Manchester in November 1952. I believe I was the only female candidate in the hall on that occasion.

I went to London to receive the Roger Carter prize. It was an overwhelmingly male dominated ceremony to say the least. 

When I attended a formal dinner held by the Manchester Society in the 1950s, wives were not included. I was allowed to invite my husband, an engineer by profession.

"£1.00 a month pocket money"

Mavis Lucas (qualified in 1953)

Mr Oliver visited my parents' home. He explained that if he was training me for five years there would be a premium to pay, I would be expected to work a 39-hour week, with no salary, for the five years and receive £1.00 a month pocket money. The premium was equivalent to one third of my father’s annual salary. I would have to pay for a correspondence course as the nearest college was twenty miles away and there was “no day release” concession.

My parents would have to support me for the five years as I would have to live at home. All was agreed and my Articles were signed on February 8th 1948...But accountancy would not have been part of my life without the support of my parents, and especially my Father, who defied the nay-sayers and insisted that “all girls should have a good education”.

"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.

"his jaw dropped and he said 'It's a woman'!"

Patricia Whelan (qualified in 1955)

I was articled in March 1950, at the age of sixteen, to a firm of chartered accountants in Oxford. It was unusual for a girl to enter the professions then: I was the first from my school; the first female articled clerk the firm had had; and, as far as I know, the first woman to qualify as a chartered accountant in Oxford.

When I went for an interview with the firm in 1949, just before sitting school certificate, the senior partner had only registered that my name was Pat Whelan. As I entered the room where the four partners were sitting in a row on the four sides of a large table, his jaw dropped and he said "It's a woman"!

In spite of that, they agreed to take me on for a trial period for three months, which began in January 1950.

“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. 

"Be confident that you really are worth proper remuneration!"

Janet Tomlin (qualified in 1959)

In the Autumn term 1953 following O Levels I was at a Direct Grant School where the emphasis was on University, mostly Oxford or Cambridge.  I had no ambition for University whatsoever and was not able even to establish what three A levels to study. 

My parents sensed this indecision and it was my father's idea that I should begin Articles with a friend of his who had a very small practice in the city centre. I knew very little about Accountancy.  I spoke to the Auditor of the small engineering firm where my father was Company Secretary who attempted to enlighten me. All I remember about him was his completely threadbare tie!

I started work in October, prior to the signing of the Articles in December, on £1 per week from which 2/9d National Insurance was deducted.  This barely covered the cost of my daily train fare and sandwich. (At that time Lloyds bank trainee counter staff were paid £4 per week!) My Articles were signed by my father (I was only 16) and the stated salary was to be increased by five shillings per week each year for five years.

The office consisting of three rooms was above the shops, dark, dingy and dusty with ancient gas fires. The clients' records were in two filing cabinets, Accounts papers and correspondence being kept separate for each client.  Every available surface was covered with piles of books and papers of work in progress. The only equipment was an old Underwood double carriage typewriter. The staff consisted of the typist, my Principal and me.

I was soon enrolled on the Foulks Lynch correspondence course which demanded great discipline in the use of time which has served me well all my life.

I mastered the clients simplex cash book and Private Ledger jobs. Any crossings out in the Ledger were deeply frowned on and ink eradicator, which was mostly bleach, tended to remove figures from the pages underneath as well. I copied out many small Company Annual Returns, having first had go to buy the forms at 6d each from Stationery Office! After two years most of the work was repetition. I enjoyed Company Law and the 1948 Act. (My Principal admitted that he knew nothing since the 1933 Act. He also kept reminding me that his father had had to pay for him to be articled, before the War). I discovered that I enjoyed figures especially satisfaction in the logic of double entry bookkeeping. I went to a few Student Society Lectures and at least one weekend away when, out of the 108 participants, there were just three girls.  

A young Accountant arrived at the office 1955 who later went on to become a Partner.  He was extremely helpful and assisted me with any difficulties in the Course.  He also helped with the complications of Tax Comps. involving EPT (Who remembers Excess Profits Tax and the need to know the figure of the capped pay for directors?).

I found I enjoyed studying in the city Reference Library every evening after a day's work. (Working at home was not an option as I was the eldest of six children with a permanently stressed mother!)  I found Executorship very difficult but I passed the Intermediate first time in 1956 and the Final took two attempts.  In 1956 my parents took issue with my Principal about the rate of pay and as a grand gesture he stopped the NI deduction!  He also complained that he had seen me with a young man on the office steps - a trainee HMIT no less - but he did not know that!  

On 19th December 1958 my Articles ended - I was asked to leave on that day so that there was no suggestion of a Christmas gift that year.!  A new Articled  Clerk had joined in September who was being paid more than I was, £2.50 p.w whereas under the Terms I was then on £2 p.w.   I moved rapidly to a larger firm and was soon on £10.00 p.w and given responsibility for most of the personal tax work in the office for the happiest two years of my career, before I married and moved North in 1960.

"The lecturers used to enjoy saying 'Lady and gentlemen'"

Susan Bennett (qualified in 1959)

Studying was all by correspondence course apart from some lectures in Liverpool. The lecturers used to enjoy saying "Lady and gentlemen" I wasn't allowed to get married until I had qualified but luckily did so at my first attempt.

After my children were born I worked part-time as finance director in my husband's quarrying and construction company and part-time as finance director in my family's cinema and bingo firm which I continued to do until retirement.


"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.

"we used different coloured inks and pencils for vouching"

Valerie Capraro (qualified in 1963)

I was articled to a firm in Littlehampton and to my surprise really loved it! In those days there were no computers and we used different coloured inks and pencils for vouching changing the colour each year! No two days were ever the same as we had many diverse local businesses as clients. 

"I was the only woman there"

Jennifer Hindshaw (qualified in 1964)

I did a Foulks Lynch correspondence course, and attended Saturday morning lectures, where I was the only woman there (I would creep in early and sit at the back). I took and passed the intermediate exam in 1960, carried on and attended a Caer Rhun course from September - November 1963, when there were four women there.

"I have witnessed great changes regarding the confidence of women"

Ruth Markham (qualified in 1965)

I have witnessed great changes regarding the confidence of women, not just in accountancy, but in all fields. They are more assertive without being shy or shrill. I know I never felt that confidence, but it gladdens an old lady’s heart to see it displayed by a younger generation of women.

"I became the first female articled clerk in their firm"

Joan Andrews (qualified in 1966)

Since I can remember I have always wanted a career in accountancy mainly because my favourite uncle was an accountant. When I went to the local grammar school I was fortunate that my Latin teacher's husband had a practice in Bloomsbury Square. When he and his partner interviewed me I am not sure who felt more uneasy as previously they had only interviewed boys from Westminster School. In September 1961 I became the first female articled clerk in their firm. At this time I can remember being invited with my parents to the Institute in Moorgate, not sure why, but the one comment that stayed with me was there were 300 male members for each female member.

Throughout my working life, all 58 years, I have never regretted the career path I took. I have enjoyed the work, the people I have met and the fact that I was able to combine work and home life. The bonus was being paid. I've made friends of my clients but not clients of my friends.

"people who didn't want to deal with a 'woman'"

Gaynor Kingston (qualified in 1968)

I don’t remember being treated any differently as a woman during my time qualifying and it was only in the 1980s when working in manufacturing with my brother that I came across people who didn’t want to deal with a “woman”.

"My father took me to a meeting at the Institute in the early 1960s"

Jennifer Brown (qualified in 1969)

I failed my 11+, went to the local secondary school and left at 15 without any qualifications! My father took me to a meeting at the Institute in the early 1960s - it was a talk about the opportunities for a career in accountancy. I went to Chiswick Polytech to get the required 5 O-levels and two years later, with the help of the Institute, I was offered Articles with a firm in Hammersmith. There were four partners and about 30 staff. Except for four secretaries, the rest of the staff were male and I was the first female to work on accounts since the second world war.

I was treated as “one of the boys” and given good training with a wide range of experience. As a junior I was excused the fetching and returning of files each morning and evening (too weak!) and the weekly trip to the bank to collect the cash for the payroll (not enough pockets therefore too risky) but I was appointed as reserve when the coffee lady did not come to make the refreshments. I think I had the better deal!

I shared the work with the rest of the “boys”. We were not allowed to use the only adding machine in our first year and had to add the £.s.d in our head. We had many clients with incomplete records and I still think this is the best way to learn double entry bookkeeping and understand accounts.

Later I moved on to audits, and then tax and correspondence with the clients. Clients did not seem to mind that I was a girl - or perhaps I was not allocated to do work were there was opposition.

My studies were by a correspondence course…I did not find this an easy way to learn but in the office we helped each other - either learning from those further ahead or helping those who arrived after you. 

I took revision courses in Chiswell Street for finals 1 & 2. I was the only girl out of 100 students on both courses. We had a woman tax lecturer and she was the best of all the lecturers. I went on to specialise in tax. 

At that time you had to pass all papers at the same time and if you failed one you had to do them all again! I qualifed in 1969. The letter from the Institute arrived as the news came through about the moon landings - I am sure that was a coincidence, but perhaps the USA just wanted to celebrate the occasion for me!

In September I married an accountant - we had worked together and qualified at the same time, but we had no home and no money. We applied to Price Waterhouse (as it was at that time) and they offered us both a job in Kingston, Jamaica. We spent three years and 6 months there. I was the first qualified woman that they had employed. It was great professional experience and we made many friends. We have recently revisited and PwC now have a woman partner in Jamaica.

"I travelled to Nairobi, Dubai and Stockholm...and worked in all three places"

Margaret Greening (qualified in 1969)

I later travelled to Nairobi, Dubai and Stockholm with my husband and family and worked in all three places. The professional qualification was useful in getting employment.

"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.

"...they didn't have much faith women could pass the exams...I proved them wrong"

Hilary Wild (qualified in 1971)

At the age of 17, I decided to become a Chartered Accountant as I reasoned that accountants, not lawyers, seemed to run more businesses. I wanted to aim high. I was also inspired by my father (not a Chartered Accountant but the son of an accountant) whose mother had not been allowed to go to university age 18 in around 1890. He told me I needed to get a professional qualification as I never knew what might happen and it would always allow me to earn my living. He was right! 

So, imagine my surprise, and a little annoyance, when the firm I approached to become an articled clerk told me they didn't have much faith women could pass the exams! Reluctantly, they decided to take me on, possibly as the partner I saw was involved with the District Society through which he dealt with the Institute where my aunt worked as Secretary of the Disciplinary Committee. She was another strong influence in my career choice. 

I proved them wrong as I passed all exams at the first attempt, and they decided to take on more female articled clerks on the basis of my success!

Since qualification, I have worked in many different areas - investment banking, investment management, as CFO of a large global organisation and now enjoy a diverse portfolio of board roles, frequently finding myself as chair of the audit committee, despite having done no audit work as such for over 40 years! Such is the power of being an FCA! 

“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.

"Yes, I think to myself: women can do anything. Just give them a level playing field."

Jo Rogger (qualified in 1974)

As far as the work and study were concerned I didn't really have any problems. I found going to different clients and seeing how their businesses ran very interesting and quite an eye opener. I particularly liked the insurance industry which our department specialised in. Study-wise our intake was one of the first to be sent off on crammer courses. This was a brilliant idea. I took the Intermediate exam in March 1972 and managed to be placed in the top 100.

During my training I didn't feel I was treated differently…the salary scales were the same for all professional staff and I was sent on jobs in the same way everyone else was. I also did not feel demands made on me were different to my male colleagues. There were so few of us ladies there couldn't really be a different set of rules. My colleagues were in the main well-educated and brought up and although they may have been surprised to find a girl working in the department on the whole they took it at face value. I was doing the same job and making the same (and sometimes better!) contribution. Certainly there were comments made to and about me which would today have been considered sexist. However then it was just to be expected!

Once I had qualified I did feel my Manager was prejudiced against me (he was described by one colleague as a misogynist!), although my Deputy Manager was very supportive. This meant that I felt I wasn't promoted as I should have been and did a stint in Computer Audit to get away. Once I returned to my department the Manager had changed and the new one was very reasonable. I left three years after qualifying and went abroad to the Bahamas with my husband who is a Certified Accountant and we both worked in Nassau. 

By this time it was 1977 and more women were working as accountants home and abroad. In the Nassau office there were 4 qualified ladies out of about 25 total professional staff. A woman accountant was becoming less of a rarity. When we returned home I decided to practice from home once we had started a family. I had quite a few women clients as they often did feel happier dealing with a woman who would automatically take them seriously as business people.

If I look back at my experience as a woman working in accountancy at that time I would say that there were people who were sexist, dismissive, unfair and even cruel to me-if it were me now I would react and deal with it in a different way-but I was only a little convent school girl (well not that little!) On the other hand there were some very nice guys who were accepting, reasonable, helpful and empathetic. I am talking here both of my colleagues and clients. 

I felt I had an advantage in dealings with clients; it was much easier for me to get them "on side". Occasionally some of the client's staff who were ladies might feel upset about me, but I could usually bring them round. Although it was sometimes daunting to walk across a factory floor staffed entirely by men or go through management letter points with the directors of a company who were all invariably men, it was good for them and me. For them hopefully, to change their attitude about what women are for and for me to toughen me up! Accountancy is a great training for the brain.

I am always proud of the respect I can feel from people when they ask what I do and I tell them I am a Chartered Accountant. There is usually a pause and they look at me again. Yes, I think to myself: women can do anything. Just give them a level playing field.

"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 am not bloody well having my books looked at by a woman.”

Bobbie Richards (qualified in 1975)

I was the first female articled clerk to join the firm in 1971. I spent the initial nine months at Kingston Poly doing a conversion course and then started work in the summer of 1972, by which the time the firm had merged, moved offices, there was another female articled clerk (who had joined our “partner” firm like me in 1971 ) and a few more women were scheduled to arrive in the new intake. All the clients I started to visit during those early years were therefore having to cope with female auditors for the first time.

The most spectacular reaction was from the secretary of a social club, set up for the staff of the UK arm of an international company. The factory was pretty extensive but the site is no more, probably under a road scheme near the M25.  After a two or three week stint with the team for the interim audit, I was asked to go back and look at the entirely separate books for the social club.  So as I just about knew my way around, I drove down to Surrey, and presented myself to the secretary; a cliched description of him  would be a middle aged man of the “old school”; did he have a moustache or have I simply adorned him with one over the years – I can’t remember. He looked me up and down and said “Well, you can go straight back to London, I am not bloody well having my books looked at by a woman”.  After a few phone calls, I was summoned back to London for tactical discussions. In the end a compromise was reached for that year. He would allow me to look at the books and make notes but he would not engage with me in any conversations. He would only answer questions from a male supervisor.  The following year he reluctantly accepted me.

Other incidents were less sexist, but a sign of the times. At the same factory, during the three day week, there were many problems. The work of the comptometers was a particular struggle and so we sometimes had to bring in extra help. One day, we needed to change the plug as the machine brought by a new member of the team did not have a plug that fitted the sockets in the audit room.  So I went to the security gate to obtain a screwdriver. Shortly after, a strike was threatened as the union representing the electricians felt they should have been called to deal with the problem – having an auditor change the plug on one of their own machines was completely unacceptable.

In the office, female professional staff were not allowed to wear trousers… but once it became clear that we might have to climb ladders for site inspections/stock taking purposes, we were allowed to wear trousers when out on audits on certain occasions.

"I don't regret anything in my career and never felt I was held back. Most importantly, I enjoyed it."

Judith Mary Craig

Judith Mary Craig letter

Judith Mary Craig letter part 3

"I wasn’t allowed to do the audit of a gay pub in Manchester in case I saw inappropriate things."

Karen Lahan (qualified in 1975)

My mother had a friend whose husband was a chartered accountant. He was keen to talk to me about what he did. The only barrier was that when I mentioned this to my career’s advisor at school, which was an all girls school, she had no idea what was involved so I did all the research myself. Most girls at that time would have gone to university, teacher training college or into secretarial work. 

When I first started in a very small practice, discrimination was plentiful. Here are some examples of incidents that happened in the past:

  • There were only certain jobs that a woman would be sent on as they didn’t think that it was right for a woman to work away from home. It was not seen as appropriate that a boy and girl should work away from home alone. (I soon dispelled that idea).
  • Trousers were not considered appropriate dress.
  • Women’s careers were considered short term until they had children. One potential employer even said that once I had had children, maybe I could restart my career as a bookkeeper.
  • In one interview for a civil service job as a district auditor in Chester, I was asked what I would do if I met an older man who refused to take instructions from me as I was young and pretty. This was from the chairman of a panel of five older men who interviewed me in London. I realised then that I hadn’t got the job and gave a really flippant answer. Imagine asking that question today!!!
  • I wasn’t allowed to do the audit of a gay pub in Manchester in case I saw inappropriate things. It was very chivalrous in principal but a little deluded. This was in the 1970s.
  • In my personal life after I qualified and was married, I wanted to sign a hire purchase agreement in my own name. The salesman said that I had to get my husband to countersign the document. My answer was that as a chartered accountant he had no right to say that, so he gave way and I took out the agreement in my own name. How things have changed!

Although things have changed for the better (there are an equal number of men and women in the profession), there are still changes to make particularly in the area of ageism. I am in a group of lady accountants who meet regularly to discuss work and social issues. All are in practice and have joined together to support each other over the years. At least two of us have been made redundant due to forms of ageism. This is probably a symptom of our society because it does appear to go across the board as people get older and more expensive. It is interesting that doctors in practice were considered to get old over 40 and got an age allowance from the government to get over this fact. Accountants didn’t seem to see this.   

Qualifying as a chartered accountant is my proudest achievement to date. For women starting their careers in Chartered Accountancy now I would advise to always believe in yourself and ensure that you have other women around you who can help or listen when things get tough.

"I never intended to become a Chartered Accountant!"

Ann Rinsler (qualified in 1976)

Having married young, I moved immediately after university to live with my new husband, who was already working for Unilever in Cheshire.  My first role was as a buyer in a Liverpool-based retail group, where I realised that promotion to more senior roles demanded a financial qualification.  So, I targeted what I considered to be the best qualification, Chartered Accountancy, and joined KPMG (then Peat Marwick Mitchell and Co).

I fully intended to return to retail post-qualification. However, I moved to the leading local firm in Chester as a manager. This was a turning point, as I loved having my own clients and being more involved with the businesses and their owners. It also worked well domestically, as we had a baby son by then. 

Although there were only 7% of women qualifying at that time, I did not encounter any direct discrimination either in training or within the new firm.  

But many of the clients had always had male professional advisors and they were not enthusiastic about changing!  I felt I had to prove that I could do it faster and better, speaking up that bit louder in order to be heard and accepted.  I even framed my ICAEW certificate and put it up on the wall, so that clients who came in expecting to see “the accountant” would realise that it was me!

After over 15 years in Practice, the strain of dual careers on our family life increased and I was missing time with my two boys while they were small.  I made a positive choice to change direction and move to my local university at Kingston-on-Thames to acquire a better work/life balance. I lectured in Accounting and Finance, subsequently becoming MBA Course Director and maintaining a small consultancy practice. This period confirmed my passion for the provision of professional training and development throughout everyone’s working life.

One of my clients was a start-up, developing cutting edge technology to manage brands effectively. I thought the business opportunity so exciting that I became CFO, the only woman on the Board. Scaling up any company is extremely challenging in an era of rapidly changing technology, but I thrived and rose to the challenge. The company grew and we acquired an enviable client list of global corporates.   

This broadly-based, mixed experience proved invaluable as I was approached by BT plc, for a role which included establishing a Centre for Mega Projects in partnership with Saïd Business School, Oxford University.  This was an amazing opportunity - a new and innovative discipline, which today provides thought leadership, a research stream and a Masters level course at Oxford.

Once the Centre was well established, I left BT and now have a portfolio of interests, working with a number of PE-backed SMEs as a “virtual” FD and also a couple of voluntary roles. 

Would I have done things differently if I was starting out today?  

Early on, my husband’s career was prioritised over my own while I took responsibility (if not the day to day work) for our children.  I do not regret for one moment the time that I spent with them.  However, a more flexible approach to working practices would certainly make it easier to divide the care differently between partners. 

My career path has not been at all an obvious one.  I have made choices that have been governed by my passion for learning and development, in combination with more traditional Finance roles.  I did not follow the linear progression that was expected but took the risk of changing direction several times.  This is a much more common (and freeing) approach now, as people do not expect to spend decades in a single organisation or industry. 

I relish the opportunities that this path has afforded. 

"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. 

"My articles also stated that I required permission of my principal to get married."

Belinda Sprigg (qualified in 1976)

My memories of my experiences of being a woman in the accounting profession go back to the 1970s.  I took up articles with a small firm in the west end of London in 1973 having just graduated from university with a degree in Economics.

Certainly no trousers were allowed to be worn.  My articles also stated that I required permission of my principal to get married. But my most vivid memory is being sent out on an audit, my first in charge of two others.  It was in a factory on the outskirts of London.  About mid morning I got a phone call from the office instructing me to pack up my things and return to the office – the others could remain – they were young men.  Once I got back to the office I was told that the client had complained because he did not want a woman looking at his financial affairs. My principal was very apologetic but this was a rather heavy introduction to prejudice against women in the workplace.

After that I was somewhat inured to it.  Nothing quite so blatant happened again.  But at every job interview I was asked if I intended having children.  This was until it became illegal to ask that although even then it was hinted at.

In the mid 1980s, I went for a job as finance director of an investment company in the City of London.  I got the job but only as chief accountant.  I was told later this was because I was a woman and they did not think it suitable to have a female on the board.  Something similar happened in the early 1990s when there were three people shortlisted for the position of finance director for another investment management company in the City of London.  The first two, both men, were offered the position but both declined so I was offered the post of chief accountant rather than finance director.  Two years later I was appointed to the board and at that time, the then managing director expressed his surprise that a woman had been capable of doing the job, which was why I hadn’t been appointed to the board in the first place.  He had been agreeably surprised.

Prejudice continued in the City for many years and probably still exists today. There certainly is a lot in this part of the world on a social level but fortunately I no longer have to combat it at work, being retired.

"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.

“Ladies’ loos were few and very far between.”

Prue Stopford (qualified in 1976)

Almost fifty years ago, on a cold February morning in 1970, I walked up Ludgate Hill and into the offices of Harmood Banner & Co where I had been offered a position as an Articled Clerk in the world of Chartered Accountancy. I would be their second female taking Articles, and this was not something for the faint-hearted.

Partners were God-like figures with carpeted offices and views of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Articled Clerks were based in two vast dark desk-filled rooms, one for juniors and the other for those who had progressed with their exams to more senior positions. But we didn’t spend much time in the office, as most of us were sent out on audits which could last from a few days to several weeks.

My first audit sent me out to a small team where I met the other girl, who was a year ahead of me and a year older. Remember, not all of us were graduates then, and I was only eighteen. But I loved it from the word go. From the musty smell of old ledgers, the noisy clatter of machinery (typewriters and the like), the lush paper on which to prepare ‘schedules’ and the dirty cash we sometimes had to count, all felt like home.

There were disadvantages to being female: a few occasions spring to mind. On one audit which took weeks on end, Ladies’ loos were few and very far between. This could be said of many other audits, and even the Institute itself where I attended a conference on Women in Accountancy some years ago (25?) and the queue for the very few facilities was long enough to reinforce the message that there were quite a few of us, now!

On one audit, where I was the senior in charge, the accountant really had problems with a woman in such a position. I would ask him questions and he would direct his answers to the junior – someone very new and inexperienced, for whom these meant nothing. I found it most amusing, and the accountant gradually became more cooperative after realising that he was holding up the audit. On the whole, though, I found that politeness and good manners were enough to bring round the toughest of clients, and I began to build up a reputation for being able to be sent out to ‘difficult’ clients. 

I don’t remember being treated very differently from the other members of staff. I was prepared to do the most mundane of tasks, and I enjoyed it all. In 1970s London there was a dress code in the City, and at Harmood Banner we girls were not – at first – allowed to wear trousers. This applied to the secretarial staff too, and the girl who rashly decided to wear hot pants on one occasion was sent home to change – as was the clerk who wore a brown suit. Some of the partners wore bowler hats, and one in particular would always sport a rose in his buttonhole.

I spent ten years working in London until the birth of my son and difficult personal circumstances led to my move to Devon and a very different accountancy scene. I look back on those years with affection and nostalgia for another world, where life was a little easier and a lot more fun.

"It was the week Mrs Thatcher had been elected...this man, the MD, said ‘I’m glad I have not got long to live’ and stomped out of the room."

Teresa Sienkiewicz OBE (qualified in 1976)

Entering the profession

I entered the profession for unusual reasons.  I obtained my degrees from UCL but because of my deafness, I was unable to find employment and the UCL careers service did not have any ideas.  I was therefore referred to the University of London whose career adviser referred me to the Disablement Resettlement Officer’ at the then Ministry of Labour.  This seems inconceivable now, but fifty years ago students with a disability were very rare indeed and I suspect that I was the first whom UCL had dealt with.

The lady at the Ministry was very helpful and suggested accountancy, so I had an appointment at the ICAEW with a lady.  She had a large card index on her desk of all the firms in the London area who were recruiting articled clerks.  She flicked through it saying ‘I’m terribly sorry dear but none of these firms take women’!  However, she pulled out some saying that they had done so in the past and others saying that although they had not taken a woman to date, they might consider me. 

An atypical entrant to the profession

At the time, most clerks were public school boys and the profession was very middle class, so being a bricklayer’s daughter meant I did not fit the usual mould. I was successful in obtaining articles in a small firm in the City though my husband’s Civil Service job being transferred to Gloucestershire meant that I had to switch firms half-way through my training.

Audit experiences

I moved to a large firm in Birmingham where I was the only female in my audit department and the first woman that group’s clients had had on their audits.  This was very entertaining at times, with a lot of curiosity as to how I had joined the profession.  The real eye-opener came when I turned up at one client to do a one-person job and found that it was entirely staffed by elderly men, one of whom opened the door on my first day, looked me up and down and announced ‘We have never had a woman here before’!   It was the week Mrs Thatcher had been elected as leader of the Conservative party and when I remarked what an achievement it was, this same man, the MD, said ‘I’m glad I have not got long to live’ and stomped out of the room.  When I reported all this back to my manager, he told me he was very sorry, but he had forgotten to phone the client and tell him that a woman was coming- the first intimation I had that clients were told in advance!

At the time the profession was quite old-fashioned.  There was no advertising, partners and senior staff wore bowler hats and females in the office wore skirts.  The only time I ever wore trousers was on a stocktake when it involved climbing ladders and climbing over industrial stock in yards.  An acquaintance recalled being chastised by a partner for unsuitable dress.  He admonished her with the words ‘Veronica, we do not wear green tights in the office’!

My post qualification experience

I duly qualified with first time passes but was pregnant by the time my articles expired in October 1975 and left to have first child in 1976 followed just over a year later by my second.  There was no maternity leave nor any part-time work in those days so I did some small, home jobs for a local sole practitioner. 

Tax issues as a married woman

During this time, I earned below the personal allowance limits but used to notify the local tax office of my earnings.  After a couple of years, my return was obviously mislaid and my husband received a massive tax demand, based on what the Inland Revenue thought were the average earnings of a chartered accountant.  Naturally, he refused to pay as the assessment had been issued in error but to the consternation of the local tax inspector, refused to appeal because he was of the view that they had made the error and it was not for him to waste time appealing.  This went on for some time and eventually the inspector called me at home.  After some discussion, we agreed that a way around my husband’s intransigence was for me to appeal.  Being a qualified accountant, I could appeal on his behalf against the assessment raised on him in respect of my earnings!  

I think it is often forgotten that in the Revenue’s eyes, women’s earnings were deemed to be those of her husband and whilst he could keep his earnings secret from her, she could not keep hers secret from him.   I did complain to the ICAEW (a Mr Ed Vidler dealt with tax at the time) but he was not interested in lobbying for a change.  I do not think that the ICAEW would not act against this kind of discrimination now.

Returning to work

Whilst my children were very small, I had an operation which restored some hearing in one ear, enough to use the telephone, which was brilliant.  We moved back to the South East and our financial circumstances meant that I had to return to work.  I initially did so as a lecturer in 1982, taking a one-year contract. I decided to return to the profession in 1985, having discovered that my students were earning more on their training contract salaries than I was earning as their lecturer!   In fact, my timing was impeccable, because literally a month later my hearing failed completely so I could not have carried on teaching.

Returning to the profession

I found it very difficult to find a suitable post as firms were not used to taking on women returners and at the time I was applying, I had had nine years outside practice.  Eventually, I found employment in the technical department at what was then Touche Ross (now Deloitte).  I described my experiences in a letter to Accountancy in spring 1988 and subsequently wrote an article published in around June 1988.  In 1987, the Law Society, having recognised that their profession was losing a lot of qualified women, set up a working party to deal with the problem and I wrote to the then president, Arthur Green, suggesting that the ICAEW do the same.  There were three female council members at the time. Eventually a group called 20/20 was formed to provide a network for returners.  I like to think that I instigated the movement to do more for women in the profession.

Later career

I left Touche Ross and joined KPMG in 1994 and spent 20 years there, most of it as an audit director in a technical role.  My deafness had always been a problem so it was simply not possible to handle the many meetings a direct client role would have entailed.  Nevertheless, I had an interesting and varied professional career.  This included being the first woman to chair PRAG (the Pensions Research Accountants’ Group) and the ICAEW pensions committee, where I was a member for many years and made an effort to recruit more women members.  I was also a trustee of the ICAEW pensions funds, at the time (1999-2009), the only woman trustee.  I chaired the APB working party which prepared the guidance on pension scheme audits and liaised on behalf of the ICAEW with the DWP on the legislation on pension scheme accounts and audit, persuading the DWP to embed in the law assurance reports on internal controls of service organisations, vital in money purchase schemes where the funds are unitised.

Other activities 


Following the death of my husband when I was just about to retire, I carried on working for a further five years, eventually retiring at 66.  At the invitation of Fiona Wilkinson, I joined the ICAEW’s SW committee as the retired member representative, a role which I enjoy.  We are trying to persuade retired members to keep in touch with the profession and CABA has been very helpful, running events which have included retired members’ afternoon teas and retirement courses.


I have already explained that my deafness led me to join the profession and I had a volume-enhanced phone and obviously arrangements were put in place to alert me if the fire alarm went off.  I discovered at KPMG that the firm employed a number of people with hearing loss and we had a little deaf group where we exchanged information and advised the firm of any difficulties.  For example, someone decided that a system of telephone voting could be used which was, of course, a problem, and when telephone technology changed, we were consulted by the installers. Siemens even made me a special volume-enhanced handset! 

When the firm looked at the implementation of the disability discrimination legislation, rather than simply consulting the physically disabled staff, we were put at the heart of the advisory committee and were able to determine what changes were required.  These not only related to the physical configuration of the buildings and IT and communication systems but the whole raft of employment policies, including training, client charging, transport, car parking and sickness policies,  When the firm opened its new building in Canada Square, it was probably the most disability-friendly building in London.  Facilities included a wide security gate for wheelchair users and wide doors to meeting rooms and lifts, designated parking spaces, disabled lavatories on every floor, loop systems in meeting rooms, and at reception, and colour schemes suitable for the partially-sighted.  We also had an access leaflet written by the staff so that clients and visitors explaining what facilities and additional were available to visitors with a disability. 

ICAEW liaison

The work on disability went on over a good number of years.  One of the issues which came up was the difficulties disabled candidates had with the ICAEW when asking for additional time in examinations.  A KPMG wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, mentioned at one of our disability advisory group meeting that he had had to produce considerable medical and other evidence and for one examination, was only granted extra time a few days beforehand. This led to a meeting between the other ‘big four’ and the ICAEW’s examinations team and as a result, the ICAEW’s requirements were reviewed and changed to make them more flexible and accommodating.  Now, around 20% of the candidates have additional time for conditions ranging for dyslexia to sight problems.  Some candidates are permitted to use computers for everything, and some are permitted to handwrite their papers.


The work on disability also led to me becoming a founder member of Wharfability, a group of employers concerned to make Canary Wharf a better place.  Much of its work centred on mental health, a particular concern in the professions and the financial sector, but it promoted a valuable exchange of ideas and solutions.

ICAEW diversity work 

When Fiona outlined at one of the ICAEW SW meetings the work of the diversity committee I mentioned that disability requires a completely different approach to tackling other forms of diversity and prepared a paper for the ICAEW.  This became the ICAEW’s guidance on disabled staff and I became a member of the diversity committee, using my experiences to take forward its work.

Nearly 50 years after I joined the profession, I am still actively involved.  As retirement ages are set to rise, retirement at what was usual, 60, is not going to be an option for many people and we can expect a lot more members of the profession to want to continue working.  That will involve changing expectations in practice and in industry about employing older people – another diversity issue!

"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 in 1989)

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!

"My father...never saw my gender as being a drawback to anything that I might want to do."

Barbara Pentlow (qualified in 1981)

After 7 years (and two different universities) of being a student, I decided that it was about time that I tried to earn a proper living - so I moved to London in 1977 and started to train to be an accountant.

My father (who died in 1976) had been an accountant but he had trained in industry and been a member of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (now CIMA) whereas I joined Thomson McLintock & Co. (it later became part of KPMG and was always known as TMcL) and opted for the ICAEW qualification and thus the trial by audit route! Actually, I had always told my father that I would never even consider becoming an accountant, so I think I heard some ghostly laughter when I signed up!

Incidentally my father had been involved in a committee which monitored/oversaw the introduction of equal pay for men and women within his own particular industry and we used to have regular arguments on the subject! He liked to play devil’s advocate and wind me up – but was always supportive of my personal aims and ambitions and NEVER saw my gender as being a drawback to anything that I might want to do. Not every woman was then or even today still is lucky enough to have this sort of moral support.

My first degree was in mathematics, but this merely demonstrated that I was reasonably numerate and logical in my thought-processes – however, it did get me out of having to sit the statistics exam!

Throughout my time at TMcL I can honestly say that I was not aware of any major gender-related problems that affected me personally. I used to wear trouser suits (made by my mother) to work and no-one from the London office ever even commented on the fact – although once a partner from another office (met on a training course) remarked that I would NOT be allowed to wear trousers to work if I worked in HIS office! It seems that the London office was more forward-looking in these matters than some of the others!

Looking back, I really used to enjoy auditing - it gave me the opportunity to learn just how many different sorts of organisations actually functioned. This was probably due to the perennial student in me! During my time at TMcL I had the usual memorable auditing experiences of counting bottles at a bottling plant, counting false teeth in a medical supplies company, visiting building sites of all shapes and sizes as well as popping into places such as department stores and antique shops to check on stocktakes! Then there was the brewery……!

"I knew I wanted to do commercial subjects, rather than classics."

Aileen Swain (qualified in 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 was there at the time when the number of female professionals was growing."

Philippa Matthews (qualified in 1989)

I don’t feel that ancient, or as though I come from another time - but I realise how far we have come when I consider my life as a trainee in the 1980s.

I graduated from Durham University in 1986 and joined Coopers & Lybrand. In those days female employees were not allowed to wear trousers. So, for all my early years of training I wore skirts to work. Things moved on rapidly as wearing trouser suits became commonplace in the early 1990s. I suppose I was there at the time when the number of female professionals were growing. The culture was very much male dominated at Senior Manager and Partner level and prior to the 1980s the women in the office had all been support staff - known as "secretaries". 

I think the treatment of women in the office in the 1980s (both secretaries and professional staff) was influenced by the hierarchical nature of the office with the 100% female support staff being at the bottom of the hierarchy. So, when female professional staff were recruited, they joined the bottom of the hierarchy too. I can’t recall any overtly sexist treatment, but, I wasn’t looking for it and, I probably would not have recognised it as sexist, just part of the office culture of the time.


"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.


"My story shows that you are able to have a career that progresses and still have a family."

Louise Morriss (qualified in 2003)

I qualified in 2003 and joined my current firm in the October of 2006. I worked my way up to Manager and in 2009 I had my first child. In 2010 I achieved my RI status and began signing audit reports. 

I had another two children in 2012 and 2015, returning to work after both, and then in 2016 I was made Director. In 2018 there was a decision to split the audit business into a separate legal entity to ensure we maintained independence. I became Managing Director of that business at the same time and since then have run a successful business. 

I guess my story is one that shows that you are able to have a career that progresses and still be able to have a family. A career doesn't have to stop when a family starts and I am lucky to work for a firm that recognises the strengths in all their employees allowing them to achieve their goals. I am grateful for the support the ICAEW provide in helping me run the audit practice, providing guidance to not only me but also to my students.

"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.

"Founder of Kuang Zheng Certified Public Accountants...and Head of JPA International in China"

Holly Chen (qualified in 2019)

Ms. Holly Chen, Founder of Kuang Zheng Certified Public Accountants, is ACA and Head of JPA International in China. She also serves as a member of the Beijing Institute of Certified Public Accountants (BICPA), the Industry Development Strategy Committee,and CPPCC Haidian District, Beijing, as well as a project evaluation expert for the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. After work, she loves to run, read, travel, play the Guqin every now and then, and enjoy taking care of plants.

In my career of nearly three decades, I have always been involved in finance, accounting and auditing, but they are different from what I started with. My major in college was Industrial Enterprise Management, and I also studied management in graduate school. I dreamed of becoming a workshop director, minister of organization or factory manager. I have served for four different organizations respectively in my career, one state-owned enterprise, two accounting firms, one of which I founded, and a governmental organization where I held a temporary post. I was assigned to a state-owned enterprise after I graduated. With accounting knowledge acquired before, I was assigned to the accounting department. Afterwards, I founded Kuang Zheng Certified Public Accountants in 2004, where I serve as Chief Partner, Chairman and Senior Accountant.

In 2006, Kuang Zheng Certified Accountants became an ICAEW ATE. After that, I served as QPRT, supervising and mentoring ACA students during their work and studies, and growing with my colleagues and interns. Although I am familiar with the ACA testing modules, I never thought that I would become a member of ICAEW. In 2017, when I heard that ICAEW opened the Pathways to Membership program to certified public accountants in China, I was really excited and decided to become an ACA through this program. It provides a new opportunity for members of other internationally recognized profession institutes to join ICAEW. With my effort, I finished preparing and submitting all materials for review in 2019 and fortunately passed the first try.

I chose to apply to become an ICAEW ACA because of job demand in the first place. In today’s world of economic globalization, accounting and auditing standards are converging internationally, which requires accountants and auditors to have an international vision. ICAEW is renowned as one of the most authoritative accounting profession bodies in the world, and it has brought many opportunities for my career development. 

The second reason I chose to become an ICAEW ACA is the sense of belonging, as it is one of the most globally recognized accounting qualifications. Becoming an ACA means that I need to hold the highest professional standards, work diligently with great integrity, self-discipline and etiquette.

It feels like yesterday when I was still in school reciting poetry, but I will be entering a new stage of my life soon. One greeting for myself and other female members of ICAEW: I have no special skills but the pursuit of hopes and dreams; I have nothing to lean on but the persistence to fulfil all of my promises.