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Welcome to the centenary digital archive: a message from Fiona Wilkinson, ICAEW President 2019/20

It was with great delight that I learnt soon after being elected Vice President that the ICAEW would be celebrating the centenary of our first female member, Mary Harris Smith, during my Presidential year. This was a wonderful bit of serendipity as I am only the third female to hold this role since 1880.

Mary it turns out is someone who really is worth celebrating. She made several attempts to become a member of the ICAEW but was rejected on the grounds of her gender. She was finally admitted in May 1920 following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in December 1919 at the great age of 75. She did not give up on trying to achieve her goal and it is her resilience, persistence and determination which we have been celebrating during my year as President.

This we have done in various ways such as commissioning a portrait of her, posthumously awarding her the Outstanding Achievement Award, making three eminent females who have done a lot for diversity and inclusion in the profession honorary members (all existing honorary members being male) and I have held lunches with female members around the world, including in Vancouver, Nicosia, Dubai, Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne, giving them a chance to network. I have also been able to tell them Mary’s remarkable story. The granting of the Outstanding Achievement Award and of the honorary memberships was due to take place at a dinner in March 2020 celebrating the female centenary, which has unfortunately had to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we plan to hold it once large gatherings are again feasible.

I also had the idea of collating an archive of women’s experiences in the workplace in the twentieth century. The idea was sparked by conversations with my two daughters who, when I told them some of my early experiences when I started work in the mid-1970s, would say things like, “surely that can’t have happened, Mum”. They were disbelieving when I told them that a lot of the male managers had Pirelli calendars on their desks, that one director mistook me for a comptometer operator, or how another automatically assumed that my male junior and not I was the senior in charge of the audit team.

I thought how great it would be to capture the experiences of other women in the profession before they disappear from living memory. Consequently, I wrote to all of our female members aged 65 and over and asked if they would like to contribute a record of their early experiences as working women and we have had great responses.

The result is this very interesting and often poignant archive.

Fiona Wilkinson
ICAEW President 2019/20

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Explore the digital archive of women's own stories as chartered accountants over the past 80 years.

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