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Gender equality: 100 years of women in chartered accountancy

6 March 2020: ICAEW celebrates 100 years of women in chartered accountancy with a full programme of centenary initiatives, along with ways to engage with International Women’s Day 2020.

The year 2020 marks the centenary of the first female chartered accountant in the world, ICAEW member Mary Harris Smith. 8 March 2020 is also International Women’s Day (IWD). The centenary and IWD are both being recognised by ICAEW as part of its commitment to gender equality. 

To recognise the centenary, celebratory activities such as events, publications, a portrait, a permanent blue plaque and first-hand accounts from women working over the past 100 years in chartered accountancy have taken place. President Fiona Wilkinson (2019/20) has made marking the centenary the principal theme of her year. 

All details about the campaign can be found on our digital hub.

Alongside ICAEW’s journey to equality, this year’s theme for IWD 2020 is #EachforEqual, meaning that an equal world is an enabled world. Crucially, equality is not a women's issue; it's a business issue. ICAEW is committed to a world of sustainable economies so it is very much in sync with the goals of IWD 2020. 

The history of women’s inclusion in the profession over the past 100 years has not always been straightforward or easy, but we are now at a point where we understand that equality is absolutely vital, humanely and economically. We celebrate the achievements of those who came before, while we look forward to forging the path ahead. 

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

“A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial post or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation.”

To celebrate this turning point, ICAEW has produced a book following the histories of pioneering women in the profession over the past century. We have also commissioned a portrait of Mary Harris Smith. It will be unveiled at this year’s Annual Dinner, where we will also announce three very special Honorary Memberships to women who’ve made a significant impact on gender equality in accountancy.

We have also created a digital archive of first-hand accounts of women in the profession over the past century. The fascinating, insightful stories are available here and will be added to as time goes on.

Centenary events have been taking place in the UK and internationally, including Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai and Belgium. There are still places available for upcoming events in the UK.

A permanent City of London blue plaque will also be installed on the site where Mary Harris Smith’s office stood on Bucklesbury, near Bank station. The blue plaque grants female chartered accountants their well-earned place in the square mile’s history and will be unveiled in May 2020.

To mark International Women’s Day 2020, ICAEW will be offering plenty of ways for you to get involved through social channels using the hashtag #icaewDiversity. We will be featuring a video of President Fiona Wilkinson, the benefits of our Women in Leadership Academy programme, our upcoming Women in Tech conference and our Women in Finance Community. Stay connected with our Instagram feed @icaew to find out more about these and other important initiatives for IWD.

ICAEW is committed to gender equality and the celebrations around the centenary are paramount. While significant progress has been made, there is still more to do to ensure all genders are on an equal footing in the profession, here in the UK and internationally. And as we mark International Women’s Day 2020, we are reminded that equality is not just good for women, it is good for everyone and necessary in a world of sustainable economies.